Archive for April, 2010

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Birthday Wish

April 15, 2010

Today is my first birthday.

This seems to be an important event to my owners.

Just look at the crazy hat I agreed to wear for a tiny stack of treats.

I hope being a year old doesn’t mean I’m too mature for toys.

The purple teddy next to my treats is one of my favorite toys . . . RUFF.

—Ralphie Andre

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Working Retreat

April 14, 2010

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 It’s Wednesday, and I am still thinking about the hot bubble bath in a clawfoot tub and the yummy meals prepared for me last weekend. Proprietor, Lani Eklund of The Inn at Locke House, offered a Weed, Feed, and Stay Retreat to anyone who would volunteer one workday in the gardens. In return, you’d receive three w-o-n-d-e-r-f-u-l homemade meals and one peaceful night at the Inn. Considering what a good cook Lani is, and how little opportunities I have to run away from home, it’s debatable who benefited most.

I arrived at 9:00 a.m. Friday morning. The Inn is only ten miles from home so I didn’t have far to travel. After taking my bag to a Victorian-style room named The Langdon, I pulled on my garden gloves, grubby yard shoes, and sunhat. Other volunteers chose a different workday for their retreat, so it was only Lani and me pushing our gloved fingertips into the soil to rip out pesky weeds and zealous mint.

As I worked, colorful blooms swaddled my turned-down head and bowed shoulders. Within the hour, I pulled up an acorn seedling that had rolled in from the Inn’s oak grove, southeast of the gardens. The acorn’s taproot is twenty-seven inches long, a record compared to my collection at home! (Read Acorn Blues under Country Buzz.)

We weeded around the stocks of rosebushes, at the base of iris blades, under shrubs and herbs, between plants I recognized but couldn’t name. Some of the irises are 100 years old, as are the roses on the west side of the Inn. As we worked, we talked about our garden dreams, family, Facebook, blogging, and subjects I no longer recall. With heirloom plants at our fingertips and a house built in the 1800s sitting in the background, the scene reminded me of my great-grandmothers’ days when women stayed home and gathered to quilt, sew their gardens, preserve the harvest, and birth their children. All Lani and I needed was long bustled dresses and lace-up shoes.

After lunch, I weeded in a cool, damp bed under bushes that poked me in the head, and just about everywhere else on my person. Yellow Oxalis (Oxalis stricta) dominated the soil between the floras. In the 1800s, people planted Yellow Oxalis in fields and landscape. Oxalis puts on a pretty show with its yellow flowers, but today we consider this invasive clover to be a weed, an unwelcome disfigurement in our beds and lush, green lawns. Oxalis grows from a bulb. To control it one must dig the bulbs out with a shovel or use a good weed killer. I wasn’t aware of this at the time, so the bulbs are still beneath the surface which means that whatever I pulled up will grow back. This is probably grounds for Volunteer Recall.

We pulled up our stiff bodies and put our tools away at 5:00 p.m. Lani, who worked alongside me all day, made a delicious seafood dish and cucumber salad. My room was warm and comfy, the bubble bath soothing. When I folded back the covers, and laid my head on a pink check pillowcase, I felt like a young girl. I haven’t slept in pink sheets for years. What a treat!

In the morning, Lani whipped up her own recipe of Egg Florentine Bake. I wanted to weed again so I could taste more flavors of this professional cook, something I’m not. Through the screen door, I watched a blue jay splash in a birdbath over a weed-free bed. Weed-free beds will satisfy the heart of any gardener, especially when his or her stomach is full after a restful night. Copyright © 2010 Dianne Marie Andre

 

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Budding Garden Thoughts

April 13, 2010

“An empty plot is nature’s

design studio. Dig in . . .

express yourself.”

Copyright © 2010 Dianne Marie Andre

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Ever-Changing Garden

April 12, 2010

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Linden, CA | Seventy-eight-year-old Betty Mathis says it’s time to slow down, to curtail more of her 150-variety irises. Even fifty irises are work, as they need dividing every three years. Planted over time, Betty recorded the name and dates of each species on a simple pencil sketch she drew of the yard, divided into E, F, and G sections. Betty may be cutting back on irises, but walk around her one-third-acre garden and there are few signs of decline elsewhere.  

The garden emerged in phases after Betty and her husband built their two-story home in 1960 on one acre. Ten years later, when Betty spotted a couple of orphan poppies near the oak tree in their field, she decided to save them before they were disk under. Betty’s plant-saving measure eventually spread a sea of carroty blooms that flutter in the slightest breeze among her garden beds and in the surrounding field. “You never have to replant them because there is always going to be one coming up someplace,” Betty said, gazing at her poppy field.     

These unusual pink poppies came up in Betty's yard.

 

Betty has loved flowers since she was big enough to walk around her grandparents’ garden of dahlias and sweet peas. “It was my job,” Betty reminisces, “to pick off the sweet peas. That took an hour or two.” There were so many that every neighbor had bouquets. Betty’s grandfather contributed his flourishing blooms to corncobs! He claimed to dig a trench that he filled with corncobs covered with dirt before planting sweet peas seeds on top. “My grandfather was Polish so he had a since of humor.” Betty said with a grin, “I don’t know how much of this was bull.”  

Absent in Betty’s rambling beds are corncobs and formality. Instead, lapping pathways made of railroad ties are Gerber daisies, larkspur, bachelor buttons, daffodils, forget-me-nots, petunias, roses, hollyhocks, foxgloves, camellias, azaleas, hydrangeas. Betty starts most of her plants from seed. Ordering from her favorite catalogs (Park and Burpee) every year, Betty sows four to six flats covered with domes with overhead lights until they germinate. February or March, she puts them into the ground.  

“There’s no secret to success here,” Betty said. “Plants go in wherever I feel like putting them.” If a plant doesn’t fit into the mix of neighboring flowers, Betty moves it to another location. Betty does practice composting, using natural chicken or steer manure, and deep watering twice weekly when needed. When asked how she controls weeds, Betty replied, “Mr. Right and Mr. Left,” as she tossed up her right and then her left hand into the air.  

Commuters oftentimes stop at the end of the day to take pleasure in Betty’s garden. Others slip seed packets or a note of gratitude in Betty’s mailbox. One man, whose yard is bare, took photos that he enlarged and then covered a window in his house so he could look at flowers.  

Although Betty plans to cut back on irises, her love of flowers remains constant. After all, there are hundreds of low-maintenance horticultural choices, like Betty’s newest interest in lilies and peonies. Copyright © 2010 Dianne Marie Andre  

White Peonies

 

Betty Mathis

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Budding Garden Thoughts

April 11, 2010

“I count it a blessing

to care for all things green

. . . and a miracle that they live.”

Copyright © 2010 Dianne Marie Andre

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Field Trip

April 8, 2010

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A recent visit to Metzger Farms knocked my ideals about meticulous gardens down a notch or two. Randy Metzger, retired county assessor, and his wife Susan have lived on their ten-acre farm in the Sierra foothills since 1978. Fruit trees, vineyards, gardens, a pond, and outbuildings circle the couple’s log cabin home.

Randy has been gardening since 1951. His newest garden lot, secured from deer by a ten-foot high fence, lies north of the cabin, tucked out of view. Inside the fence, the grounds look like an unkempt prairie of weeds. I’m talking, thick growth three-foot high. However, what seemed out of control are actually cover crops. Tucked among them were some of last season’s overgrown cauliflower and cabbage. There were probably other vegetable varieties, but they were difficult to spot among the cover crops.

A gardener of medium to high standards would have dispelled a frown across the muddle swell. Much as I love gardens for their beauty (and fresh flavors), a recent horticulture class on cover crops gave me a sense of appreciation for what was actually happening in Randy’s garden. This feeling was liberating. It told me that something good and wonderful was taking place. Life was regenerating itself in a natural and healthy way. No chemicals. Whatever nutrients last season’s vegetation sucked from the soil was going back into it. The incoming plants would flourish.

“You can tell how good your soil is by how the cover crop looks,” Randy said, pointing to a lush area then to a dwarfed one. Cover crops improve the soil’s health and structure, naturally. They prevent erosion and can choke out weeds. Leguminous cover crops add nitrogen.

Randy also leaves some of last season’s vegetable stocks in tact. Many were dead . . . brown woody-debris-dead. Get them out-of-here, they’re ugly dead. Others were living, giant monstrosities with flower stocks shooting up, going to seed. About a month before planting new vegetables, Randy mows and tills everything into the earth to decompose and to amend the soil with organic matter. This is what professional horticulturists do . . . care for the soil first, before they plant. Randy sows everything from seed in his little greenhouse, and then sells his vegetables, fruits, cider (as well as plants), June through Thanksgiving.

Most likely, there’ll be a cover crop growing in my garden this winter. Copyright © 2010 Dianne Marie Andre

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Budding Garden Thoughts

April 7, 2010

 

“Seasons assure us of life’s unending cycles.

Learn from them . . .

and love to learn.”

Copyright © 2010 Dianne Marie Andre

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Egg…ish Tips and Facts

April 4, 2010

Ten Tips and Truths about Eggs:

1.  Egg size is determined by weight per dozen.

2.  Grade is determined by the quality of the shell, white, yolk, and the size of the air cell.

3.  Stored in refrigerator, eggs can last up to three weeks

4.  Keep eggs separate from strong scented foods (fish, onion, garlic, melons, etc.) as they absorb odors.

5.  You can tell if an egg is fresh when the yolk, and the white next to the yolk, stands up tall.

6.  Rotten eggs will float to the top when placed in a bowl of water; unspoiled eggs will sink.

7.  To tell if an egg is raw or hard-cooked, spin it. A hard-cooked egg will easily spin. A raw egg will wobble.

8.  The white meat spot is not sperm or an embryo. It’s what anchors the yolk in the center of the white.

9.  The blood spot sometimes seen in an egg is a blood vessel that ruptured during formation. It is not an embryo.

10.  Cloudy egg whites are caused by one of the following: 1)carbon dioxide in the white; 2)the protein that holds the yolk together is stronger than usual causing a cloudy appearance; 3)the egg was stored between 32 and 39 degrees F.

Whether you celebrate Easter or not, I sincerely hope that something wonderful and special will come your way today.  Dianne Marie Andre

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Budding Garden Thoughts

April 3, 2010

 

“Painted Easter eggs and giggling children

remind us to celebrate the rising Son.”

Copyright © 2010 Dianne Marie Andre

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Budding Garden Thoughts

April 2, 2010

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“No occupation is so fulfilling as birthing a seed,

a bud, or your own nourishment.”

Copyright © 2010 Dianne Marie Andre

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