Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Preparing for Winter

I was talking to my sister the other day, who lives in upstate New York. It was a brief chat.  This is because she and her family were racing around, storing the pool toys, packing up the lawn mower, taking down the screens and putting up storm windows in anticipation of snow. In truth, it had already snowed there, hence the "racing around" part.

Here it's a little easier to get ready for the winter rain storms - or at least one hopes there will be rain. And storms, in the plural. So far, the local meteorologists are not saying much, mostly because there does not seem to be a clear pattern. Perhaps we all could take a lesson - just keep your mouth shut until you actually know something.

At any rate, at this house the picking up and putting away is balanced by the setting out and spreading around. Yes, the patio furniture has been brought in. But in its place every spare bucket and tub is set out to collect extra rainwater.

The ratty old bean plants are now history, but baby snow peas are claiming that garden bed. And the battle with the slugs and caterpillars seems to be won - most likely only temporarily - in favor of the new winter lettuces. Small victories, I know, but sweet victories nonetheless.

Saturday, October 28, 2017

When the Going Gets Easy

We wimpy folk go to Tahoe. It's too crowded in the summer for me, and too crowded in the winter as well, so that leaves late fall as a wonderful time to visit. Hardly anyone else is around, lodging is abundant and reasonable, restaurants are still open, and the weather is usually beautiful. Yay!

Lake Susie

So on the "popular" hike to Lake Susie (someone lied about the distance because that absolutely was the looongest 3.4 miles I have ever walked!) we may have met half a dozen other hikers, or maybe eight at the most, and two white-headed woodpeckers.  We didn't bother to sign up for a permit, mostly because there were no permits to fill out. It wasn't a problem. Yay!

Friday, October 13, 2017

Dark Days

So what do you do when it is recommended that you stay inside with the windows closed because of the smokey air? Air so bad that you can see, smell and even taste it.

Aside from fretting, that is.

So while idle hands may not be the devil's workshop, I find that busy hands keep the crazies away. As does drinking wine. Cheap wine for now, since I already blew the budget for humanitarian relief on hurricanes and earthquakes. Now there's fire aid to think about.

So, I have kept busy packing up seeds, plants and gardening books to share at The Plant Exchange's free meet-and-swap on October 21st. Very briefly, it works like this: you bring your garden-related donations and then go "shop" among all the other plants and items offered up by other generous gardeners. You might want to bring some bags to carry home your treasures.

And then there is a new baby showing up in the family (a girl this time, the first!), so that little blanket absolutely needs to get finished. Binge watching helps with the project.

After that, there is that backlog of chores, things such as shoveling out my studio. But first, maybe some more mice...

Friday, September 29, 2017

While the Cat's Away...

Except the cat is never away. And they're rats, not mice. And their play days are now over.

Princess the cat has caught six rats in the past eight days. Now I just leave the broom and dustpan on the patio for the morning's reconnaissance and clean-up.

I am a bit suspicious that someone else is also doing a "clean-up" after Princess. I think our local skunk cruises by in the night and, when possible, takes advantage of a freshly killed free meal.

I'm the one with the mouse project. And I started first. Mine began in ceramics class, as a way to use up a small block of clay. And then another small block of clay. And then maybe a bigger block for some gray mice. Just to keep the brown ones company...

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Everyone Could Use a Drink

Not for the birds. Not even for the bees, although they are certainly welcome. But for the butterflies. Yes, they too like an occasional drink, though I don't think they worry about whether it is Happy Hour or not.

First, make a fake rock by covering a chunk of styrofoam with hypertufa (thereby entombing some of that excess packing material that all too often arrives uninvited). The styrofoam interior means that a normal person can lift it and carry it around. If it were a solid piece of hypertufa, it would not be so easy to move about the yard. Rock dimensions: approximately 8" x 9" x 14".

Then, make a mosaic inside of a small saucer for a planter. Since it is small, it really doesn't take much time and you get to use up some of those little left over bits from other mosaic projects. And if you happen to have on hand a stash of, say, chopstick rests that you picked up, say, a few years ago (ahem, say like at least fifteen), then it is easy to embellish the little mosaic.

Attach the mosaic saucer to the fake rock with thinset, fill with water and wait for your little friends to belly up to the bar.

Monday, August 28, 2017

The "Heads on Stakes" Project

Blame it on the drought. And the broken plates that Jean Doak passed my way. And the succulent cuttings that other gardeners shared with me. And, and, and...

So many have contributed to the creation of this project of ceramics figures, tiles, low-water plants, gravel and goofiness.

Now the narrow strip along the driveway no longer looks like an abandoned dirt pile in a forgotten work zone. Instead, it brings in the bees and butterflies.

And, thanks to the gravel and tiled pavers, it only needs a drink every two or three weeks.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme: Rosemary

This is the rosemary to want - and we all want and even need it - if you have very limited garden space like I do. Just gotta leave room for those lilies, right?

It's called "Blue Boy," and even after five years, it hasn't gotten any bigger than 1' tall by 2' wide. This means that you can still get the car door open if you plant it near the driveway. Or you may be really clever and put it in a container in the sun but out of the way.

The leaves are perhaps a bit small (just pick more), but they taste just as good as their giant cousins.

And yes, the local honey bees love it too.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

A Summer of Lilies

Philippine Lily Buds

Regal Lily
First the Regal lilies (Lilium regale) in late May. Then the loooong wait for the Philippine lilies (Lilium philippinense). Their buds kept getting bigger and bigger - up to eight inches long- but they just wouldn't open. Until this week.

The Philippine lily is also fragrant, a mild lily-of-the-valleyish sweetness, quite unlike the powerful spiciness of the Regals. To smell it, you have to stick your nose way up into the bloom, all the while on the lookout for bees. Then you have to brush the yellow pollen off your nose. Just imagine how the bees must feel, with all that sticky stuff clinging to their furry, little legs.

Philippine Lily

Thursday, July 13, 2017


If you want big carrots, you have to thin them. 

That is, you have to remove their neighbors, so those lucky (for now) carrots that remain have space to grow. And although the thinning job is a bit painful ("But they're growing just fine! Can you really just root out healthy plants?"), the reward is that you get to enjoy a fine meal of newly-picked baby carrots.

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Cat? What Cat? I Don't See Any Cat...#6

We're hoping to change all that. Because Princess is going uptown (heck, so is Oakland).

It would seem that putting a big, bright collar on your cat - a bibish sort of collar - helps make those nasty feline predators much more visible to birds.

Audubon thinks it may work. A scientific study indicates that it helps. So Princess is about to become the neighborhood test case.

First, I made some break-away collars. Easy to do and the findings are available online for not much money. I made a bunch of collars because they are often lost and I wanted to have a stash on hand.

Of course, the first one went missing in less than a week. Then I tightened the next one up a bit. And gave Princess a stern lecture about keeping track of her toys. That seemed to work because this second collar has hung around for months. Yup, it's probably time to put it in the laundry.

Practicing wearing a collar in bed

The next step involved sewing a bright, colorful collar cover for Princess. The sewing was easy, but dusting off and oiling the machine, not so much. Or maybe it just seemed to take up too much time.  
And then threading the collar through that cover without losing the end other was an even bigger time sink. After that, tracking down the cat and convincing her that she really wanted to wear it, well, you get the picture. There went much of the afternoon.

You should know that Birdsbesafe produces these collar covers already put together and ready to go. So you may want to show some sense and simply buy the bugger for your own precious kitty, rather than following my example. Just an idea.

Yeah well, so far, Princess isn't too excited about it this idea of mine, but one has to make sacrifices for fashion, as well as for a few small birdies' lives. I'm hoping that if I keep telling her how gorgeous she looks, she may get over it.

Friday, June 16, 2017

New Words

Over the years, our dictionary has received a lot of use. In fact, it lives in the dining room, because where else but at the supper table are you wondering, discussing, debating and even arguing about a word, a person, or a place? (And if you have other answers to that question, that's fine. Just don't tell me; I don't want to know.)

But lately there is a entire crop of new words that demand further research.  For starters:

Idiot - Yes, we all have a working knowledge of this word, but perhaps we are not so aware that the roots of the word rest in ancient Greek. The New York Times op ed piece, "Trump and the True Meaning of 'Idiot'"  helps explain.

Impeachment - Yes, this too is a familiar word. But how this impeachment process could play out is described here.

Troll - I knew it was a noun, but can it really be a verb, too? Seems so, and has nothing to do with fishing from a boat.

Emolument/Emollient - Emolument equals hard and bad. Emollient is soft and good. 

Covfefe - Not "coffee" as my spellchecker insists. This one is still undefined. But that hasn't stopped any number of people from suggesting the real meaning. Ahhh, I get it. Those people are trolling.

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Poppin' Poppies

I planted these Elka poppy seeds in November and the rewards have been gigantic. Literally - nearly 6 feet tall, with numerous 4"-5" flowers on each plant. They weren't supposed to get quite that big, but I'm not complaining.

And because they were planted in the front yard, everyone who walked past got to enjoy them (although, in truth, a few stems did go missing. Ah well...).

Ultimately, the point of growing all this beauty is to harvest the tiny seeds - in this case, a blondie-tan color, not black - for cooking and baking. 

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Bad Haircut Day

Ouch! But I had to do it. I'm sorry I had to do it, but I really had no choice.


Otherwise, this Japanese maple (Acer palmate var. dissectum) completely blocks the walkway for us humans. And its barricade of leaves turns back the spray from the sprinkler heads, creating its own private drought.

I know it will grow back, though. I know it because this is not the first time this sad accident of a haircut has occurred. Pretty much, every few years (and we planted this tree in 1987) I perform this small but necessary crime.


Sunday, April 16, 2017

March in April

It's not every week you get to march down the middle of Market Street in San Francisco with a whole big bunch of people you don't know. Except for this week, when it happens twice.

You may have missed the Tax March yesterday, but there still is time to get in on the act: this upcoming Saturday (11am, Justin Herman Plaza, if you want to hear the speeches. Otherwise, show up at noon or so.) is the March for Science. Best of all, you can march along with real live scientists. With a science fair, food trucks and other cool stuff at the end. And it's not even supposed to rain.

What a way to blow off a Saturday!

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Branching Out

Between March 12th and March 27th, I visited the spectacular dawn redwood (Metasequoia glyptostroboides) at Mountain View Cemetery. It is a rarity in nature - a deciduous conifer. Closely related to the coastal redwoods and giant redwoods of the west coast (these guys stay evergreen all year round), it grows tall and straight like its cousins.

Dawn redwood trees are old - as much as 50 million years - so yes, they did meet up with dinosaurs once upon a time. It was first "discovered" in China in the 1940's. There still exist small stands of dawn redwoods in China, but if you have the space, you may purchase one and have a bit, albeit a big bit, of history in your own yard, too.

Friday, March 24, 2017

Gourds in the Driveway

It was a ridiculous idea, more of mad scientist-type experiment, really. I was pretty sure it would fail since there wasn't much sun. But I just had to try growing gourds - bushel gourds, the kind that can grow really big ("yuge"even) - in the driveway. The concrete would provide warmth, and weeding wouldn't be a problem at all. So who needs sunshine, right?

Right. As you can see in the photos above, by the end of July, the vine was strong, large and expanding. It had already been "topped" a number of times to help focus the energy on the gourds and not on the leaves. That old Zucchini Goddess had to practice her arts to get the baby gourds started, but she stopped working after four were pollinated. Bigger gourds come with fewer siblings. Think about it.

By the end of August, the gourds had reached their full size, about 9" - 10 " in diameter. But they were also really heavy - still full of water and probably weighing close to 15 lbs. (a "Princess" unit is around 12 lbs., and these were a bit heavier).

And by late September, the vine was looking more like a middle-aged parent - still going strong, but not quite as fresh and vibrant, and carrying a few scars and bruises. The "children" however, were glossy and almost kissable.

It took a loooong time for the gourds to cure and dry down. Looong time, and it's still not over. But by early February, the gourds had pushed forward on their own weight loss program. Now they are very light and, when shaken, the interior mass has shrunken and slides around. They are not yet down to just dried out seeds inside, but that is the path, and with any luck, it won't be too much longer.

Their outsides are marked with mold. But once they are completely cured, I will wash them, lightly sand their surfaces and oil them. And after that?