Spring Exuberance

For Sundays in My City, I could put up a picture of a bag of composted steer manure as I’ve been working hard to get the garden ready for vegetable planting.  “What are you doing in your neck of the woods? Hauling dirt, compost and manure.”  Interesting? Not so much.

 

I’ll focus on more fun things instead. A friend had given me this plant and I have no idea what it is – posting it to one of the garden sites and will come back and update if anyone can help me out (they did – it’s Billbergia Nutans Queen’s Tears). It really is these colors – the blue, lime green, yellow stamens and brilliant hot pink. One of the odder plants I’ve ever seen. Here it is in bud – so striking.  Most of the year, it’s simply plain green and spiky.

 

Continuing my lizard theme from last week (that was a California Alligator Lizard) – appears they look for places to “snag” their old skin when they shed it. This one was tangled up amongst the wisteria.

I’d also found a complete skin in 3 parts. I need to link this pic to a friend who does pottery and likes to make odd things to see if I should mail it to her – she’ll probably come up with something fantastic. Lots of ewww factor for me. I could hold it with a paper towel and put the fabric it was laid out on in the sink with heavy duty detergent first then into the washer. It creeped me out a tad.

 

More creepiness. I’ve not caught the eyes on these little buggers in photos. They move pretty quickly and can be hard to capture. Carpenter bees are generally considered beneficial insects because they help pollinate various crop and non-crop plants. But, they do bore holes in wood and must be controlled (using the preventive measures wherever possible).

Looks like I better get on it and do some exploring of the painted wood of the house near the Goldflame honeysuckle. It’s always covered in them. They’re a bit bigger than bumblebees and all black or mostly black. Supposedly, even pressure-treated wood isn’t immune from their activity.

 

Happily, do no harm bumblebees also enjoy the flora and fauna out this way. You’ll see the Carpenter bees, bumblebees and those smaller bees all buzzing the same shrub, our native ceonothus, a.k.a. California lilac. They cover a lot of the hillsides. The wild ones get kinda rangy with long limbs and growth mostly at the tips. I try to chop the ones closer to the house in half every year or so to keep them fuller.

 

For pretty, The Dutch iris are in bloom. Every spring, I’ve become enamored of all the differing flowers and blooms again. It’s always such a welcome burst of life after winter.

And, for those of you with questions about bugs, homes and gardens, I highly recommend checking out  University of California at Davis Integrated pest management – IPM. They’ll recommend preventative maintenance first and least toxic methods for bug control.

This post is participating in Sundays in My City.

Gardening Best Buds

My garden friends aren’t all good looking, but anything that gobbles down bugs is a-ok by me.

Caught this guy enjoying a morning in the sun while I was out filling the hummingbird feeders. He’s actually about twice the size of the ones I normally see.

Some of my daffodils are still in bloom. (This is Pheasants eye).

As are the petunias that overwintered.

This post is participating in Sundays in My City at Unknownmami. Pop on over to see what things are like in other parts of this small world of ours.

This week, Spring!

This weekend we’re blessed with the cuddly warmth and gentle sun of spring. I so love it – the blaring 100 degree sun of summer is too much and the damp chill of winter ok in small doses. But spring, long slow sigh – it’s resplendent in joy and life. I could have snow again – did at the end of last April. Our spring is often short to non-existent – rushing to high temps as the snow melts. I’ll enjoy it while I can and say a prayer its visit with us is prolonged this year. Would you like unbridled cheerfulness? My new favorite daffodil, Red Devon.

No matter where you are – it grabs your focus with its bright blast of color. This isn’t to say that I don’t still adore Poeticus Narcissus like Acatea (could be Pheasant’s Eye – lost my records last year in the abominable computer glitch of ’11).

Pink Charm is another quiet beauty.

Muscari are tiny and like to hide from the unobservant.

Wisteria breaking bud, just short of it’s riotous celebration of spring.

These delightful primrose charmers tugged at my resolve (to not buy flowers that are simply wild animal treats).

And, to those who celebrate it, Happy Easter. Notice the teeny wild lupines, spring is so  utterly gorgeous out here in the mountains. Light green eggs courtesy of my neighbor Terry’s happy little chickens.

This post is participating in Unknown Mami’s Sundays in My City.

In like a lamb and out like a lion

Spring?  The phrase is supposed to be in like a lion and out like a lamb for March, but hey – this year has been anything but normal. Yes folks, it’s snowing today – not unusual for some of your locales, but very much so here.

Above is Narcissus Pink Pride today. As soon as I saw this on the computer, I went inside for a flashlight and camp lantern to try to get a bit of light into the shot – but in the few moments that took, this flower had hit the ground. Below is a shot of Pink Pride last weekend.

Scilla Siberica today, big fluffy snowflakes are weighing these down.

Scilla Siberica last weekend

Narcissus Dickcissel today

Last weekend, a happier Narcissus Dickcissel

Ruby Swiss Chard

Calibrachoa

Last weekend, a hawk. I’d been thinking I hadn’t seen many hawks. Predator birds. Also heard the screech owls move back in. Predator bird. Haven’t seen ANY hummingbirds at the feeders, unusual for me. Hoping the snow of St Patty’s Day simply sent them to lower elevations for a bit (Cornell notes they “eat smaller birds”, sigh).

This weekend, really big wet snowflakes, sadly empty feeders.

This post is participating in Sundays in My City – stop by to see what others are doing in their neck of the woods.

Hope Springs Eternal

It’s a rainy, dreary Sunday – indulging myself in indoor hobbies and this morning it’s gardening.

I’ve mentioned Winter Sowing seeds before (here and here), something I’ve been a fan of for years – it works.

   

My efforts are well underway. Some of the milk jugs had snow inside them (last weekend’s storm), but this week the seedlings are taking off as though that blast of chill startled them awake.

   

Knautia  on the left and closely Planted Pam’s Choice Foxglove on the right. The foxglove seed is at least 8 years old, so I didn’t expect such great germination. It’s a biennial – doesn’t bloom its first year, just sets a base of leaves that look like most weeds. Will have to mark where I plant them (and give away oodles).

The knautia are hardy here and have pretty neat seed heads (above is the knautia in maroon and lavender with seed heads), so I’ve planted white plus that wonderful deep maroon and lavender.

   

Short Blue and White Columbine on left. I’d run out of the larger milk containers I prefer for sowing. The smaller ones work but will have to be planted out sooner (and watched for overheating more closely).

     

Today’s efforts are centered on the “warm weather” seeds – eggplants, tomatoes and peppers. Many folks winter sow everything, but for these I like bottom heat and pushing them to get to a nice size for planting out. My new growing season is shorter than the previous home and I want to grab every moment. I’m pre-germinating the seed (detailed instructions here) then I’ll move it to the “root trainers” on a heat mat under shoplights. There’s a phrase “hope springs eternal” – last time I filled the four root trainer trays and got heavy into indoor seed starting – I lost almost all of them to damping off (I think the well water must really have those spores, never had such an issue previously). But, I’ve got a plan – we’ll see if it works. Today’s efforts also include mailing a few gift seed packets off and starting more herbs in jugs.

   

The beds during last week’s snowstorm and today (time to get the weed wacker out). The lowest bed is where I planted most previous year’s potted bulbs. They get a bit stressed in ‘too hot’ pots over the summer, so I’m taking what lived and nursing them with good soil plus bulb fertilizer. Hope to then get them in the ground to naturalize once they go dormant in a few months.

I’m also giving a go at Lavender cuttings  (and a few others) in the milk jugs. My endeavors will yield  either abundance of plant material or lots of food for the compost bins. Fingers crossed for the former.

This post is participating in Sundays in My City at Unknown Mami. 

Warm and Wonderful

Like many others, we’ve been having unseasonably warm weather. Although below snow level, I’ve usually had at least three or four snowstorms by now – but not a one. We’ll be worried about the snow pack and spring water levels if the pattern doesn’t change very soon. Ever the optimist, I have to appreciate gifts of the warm weather. I’m still enjoying my sweet Pak Choi discussed in my pre-germinating seed post (and there’s more on winter sowing in that post as well). The daffodils are well on their way to blooming soon.

This mountain area is USDA gardening zone 7, and look at my lush Echeveria glauca. Spring and even warmer weather will be the perfect time to create more plants from all these lovely little rosettes.

I’ve been waiting on the cold before going gung-ho into winter sowing. For winter sowing, you use containers like milk jugs, put in dirt and seed, water and place somewhere that they will experience the cold and snow. This mimics the natural season while protecting the seeds from birds or being washed away. It also creates a mini green house environment where the seed will sprout and grow earlier than usual in your zone. The same system works for spring sowing, you just wait to put out your warm season seeds until later in the season. The Winter Solstice is the usual start for the cold season sowing. Yet here I am mid February deciding to “just do it”. The seed may germinate too early without the proper cold and late in the season cold spell could kill them. Taking my chances – have 24 jugs of flowers planted, just need to move them to a colder spot in the garden today.

 

All those pots are my spring bulbs.

The other unusual bit is that the cuttings I started in early fall are alive and growing on their protected shelf (they should be dormant).

    

I’ve even been able to harvest my garlic chives continuously all season.

The weather folks haven’t yet begun their doom and gloom predictions a.k.a. not enough snow pack  = drought, so for now I’ll remain optimistic and enjoy the gifts of the season.

This post is participating in Sundays in My City at Unknownmami.com. Stop in and see what others around the globe are up to.

Growing Things

Woo hoo, wouldn’t have thought I’d be so excited, but it’s going to get into the 20s tonight and tomorrow and we may see rain before the end of the week. :-) Brr, it’s even pretty chilly now. Like many, we’ve had unseasonable weather – amazingly warm and dry. Last season we had some beautiful weather in January and February as well, but we’d started with our requisite rain, snow and followed up with more rain and heavy snow into April. This season we’re getting concerned when we drive past the cows nibbling  itty bitty tufts of brown grass in their un-irrigated pastures that haven’t seen rain for months or think about our plethora of fruit trees that only do well with a certain number of chill hours. So, our growing things schedule is off, the ski resorts are praying for snow, and the rest of us hope for at least some rain and a drought free summer.

Although some do it earlier, January is high season for scanning the plant and seed catalogs, planning next year’s garden, and ordering seeds and supplies. Also, time to make sure you get the last of your bulbs planted if you haven’t already (and I am so into bulb planting right now; above photos were previous season). I’m sticking with the optimism route and plowing forward (he, he) with my garden. I’d mentioned here, that I grow many things from seed and enjoy winter sowing (and more links to winter sowing are in that post). It’s been too warm and sunny to put the seed jugs out, but looks like this week will rectify that. Time to dig in the dirt.

For your own planning, Johnny’s Selected Seeds has a great calendar where you key in your average last frost date and it auto fills your specific planting out dates and seed starting dates. With row covers or any season extenders you can go a tad earlier. If you don’t know your last frost date – just pick any “by zipcode” sites on this Google search.

 

One of the tricks I learned that I find invaluable is pre-germinating seed in paper towel and baggies.

Label your baggie with a sharpie marker with the date and type of seed, cut your paper towel into quarters, dampen and ring out the towel and arrange your seeds on the damp towel.

Roll up (note this towel is a little too damp. I squish it out before I put it in the baggie).

Place in baggie and leave in a warm spot to germinate.

With large seed like cat grass, I might dump a bunch in the piece of towel. Here you can see it started to sprout and is ready to plant.

Above is sprouting scallion.

   

I get a pot ready with dirt, put the seeds down, spread them out a tad, cover with dirt and water. You don’t have to remove the paper towel as it’s biodegradable. This is the sprouted cat grass.

  

With warm weather, or in a protected spot, they’ll be poking through the soil in no time. The cats keep it “trimmed”.

   

   

Pak Choi  – from sprouting in Oct to now harvesting young leaves. Pre-germinating is great as you don’t waste space (and time) wondering if your seed is good and going to sprout. It shaves about a week off your seed growing time (see the calendar to figure your seed starting time).

  

I do sometimes let them sprout a bit longer in the towels than I should, but  am able to get healthy plants. If (with work and life) you can plant them as soon as they sprout, you’ll have nice strong plants and even better survival rates. If you let them go – still plant out and you may be pleasantly surprised at how resilient they are. Above is my Swiss chard. Pre-sprouting is not necessary with winter sowing; I was simply using the milk jug is a mini greenhouse to grow before transplanting to my row covered bed.

     

If you order seed, don’t forget to throw some sprouting seeds into your order. Park Seed, Johnny’s Selected Seeds, and Territorial all have sprouting seed at a good price (and my links will land you on their sprouting pages). Love the larger seed like mung beans in stir fries; smaller sprouts – mustards, broccoli or alfalfa – in sandwiches and salads. Not into any fancy sprouting systems here, I just grab an empty jar, put some boiling water into it for a few moments to sterilize, cut some cheese cloth to cover the top, add seeds and away you go. Generally soak the seeds for half a day or overnight, then rinse in the morning and evening (leave the cheesecloth on, fill the jar with water, tip it over to dump the water out, do a second time). Easiest if you just leave your jars by the kitchen sink. Once they approach readiness, you can move to the refrigerator to slow down growth (and yes, I did let the pictured batch of mungs get pretty green, but they were great). When I harvest a jar, I’ll rinse the cheesecloth in a bleach / water mixture as it gets greenish from the seed covers and, of course, clean and sterilize the jar between batches. You can place your sprouts in a bowl of water to skim off the seed coatings if you don’t care for them. I use either a strong rubber band or the rim of the canning lid to keep the cheesecloth in place. It’s so nice and easy to have fresh greens readily on hand any time.

Well I’m off to “get dirty” while we have some sun and warmth. This post is participating in Sundays in My City – be sure to pop over and see what others around the globe are doing on their weekend.