Strange Little Weekend

air quality at dusk

Smoky gray skies at dusk

Local temperatures soared again this weekend, breaking into the triple digits. What made it surreal was the oppressive air. Though wildfires still burn up and down the west coast, the Bay Area has been relatively untouched, other than a few small and quickly contained grass fires. This weekend the skies were a murky grey with the smell of burning wood. We kept going outside hoping to locate the source. The acrid smell got worse at dusk, probably due to the heavier evening air.

According to KTVU, one of our local TV stations:

Fire departments across the Bay Area received numerous calls Saturday, from concerned residents about seeing and smelling heavy smoke in the area, officials said.
KTVU meteorologist Rosemary Orozco says it has to do with a shift in the weather pattern. She says the onshore breeze normally would blow the smoke towards the Oregon and Nevada borders.
But a change in the weekend weather pattern is blowing the smoke from the Gold Country down towards the Bay Area.

Leading up to the weekend, I couldn’t wait to get started on another sheet-mulching project. After nearly four months, we finally have our lawn replacement plans in hand. Yes!!!

To qualify for the lawn replacement rebate, I have to wait for San Jose Water Company’s final plant approval. They have strict instructions NOT to start planting without prior go-ahead and that could take up to six weeks. The rebate pays $2 a square foot so it pays to play by the rules. That said, I am so over our brown, crispy “lawn.”

landscape rebate application

Forms and more forms. Santa Clara County likes to keep it old school

I drove the list of plants, the application and other requisite forms to the water department. Knowing how slow government agencies are, I didn’t want to waste another day mailing the packet. I left with an official looking date-stamped slip of blue paper. Now we wait.

The better news is that they we’re allowed to remove the lawn while we wait. The preferred method is sheet mulching.  Since I already sheet mulched half the lawn last fall with great success, I was ready to get started.

sheet mulch fall 2014

I sheet mulched this area starting last October. It used to be lawn.

On Saturday morning, my back garden looked like this:

beginning sheet mulch august

Did a wild raccoon go crazy with an overturned garbage can?

Did the rats throw a party in the compost bin?

Nope. I made that mess. On purpose. But only because my Friday night self didn’t know about our Strange Little Weekend ahead. Excited to get started, I tossed cardboard, compost and compostable material on to the pile just before dark. By the time I was home from Pilates and haircuts the following day, temps were searing hot.

This week I’m practicing patience while I hide from the heat. I’m thanking the universe for the extra time indoors to catch up on (yawn) my boring (yawn) paperwork. This heat won’t last forever.

How was your weekend? Is your week off to a good start?

san jose weather

I have no right to snicker since I make mistakes all the time, but according to the paper, we can expect low “clodus” at the beach.

 

A Feast Fit For a Squirrel

squirrel in the fruit treeWhen you carve a lot of pumpkins, you end up with lots of pulp.  It smells divine!

We grow carving pumpkins, not known for their tasty flesh, so we usually scoop out the pulp, set aside some seeds, and compost the rest.  That’s how we got this season’s crop: via the composting bin.

On my way to the compost pile earlier this week with the pumpkin innards, I made a detour.  We have a nice clearing under the fruit tree, the perfect spot for snacking (if you’re a squirrel).  I dumped a big pile of pulp and seeds under the tree, figuring I could always move it elsewhere if there were no takers. Ha!

It’s been a busy week, so I temporarily forgot about it.  From the kitchen window on Thursday, a squirrel posed for me on the deck, but didn’t bother to wait for me to fetch my camera.  Not above a small bribe, I gathered a handful of raw almonds and headed out, camera in tow.  He performed some acrobatics in the tree, seen below diving to the lower branches before heading over the fence and away from view.

squirrel antics

“Flying” squirrel antics

I came back inside feeling a bit dejected, looked directly out the back door and did a mental head slap. While I was busy chasing a squirrel around the front yard, one of his friends was out back enjoying a feast.

squirrel eating pumpkin

Wow…this is good.

squirrel eating pumpkin

I know, I know…my diet starts tomorrow

I tiptoed outside, sat down in a chair, and snapped away. The visiting squirrel and I enjoyed the feast together and bonded over our mutual love of gardening. When he had his fill, he planted a couple of seeds on my behalf.

squirrel planting seeds

.I’ll plant this one over here…

squirrel planting seed

…and I’ll plant another one over here.

squirrel

Was that my phone or yours???

squirrel in tree

Sorry…I need to take this call.

squirrel in the garden

Gotta run. Thanks for the feast.

Cue the music: the circle of life.

The Weeping Pumpkin Mystery

weeping pumpkin

Trying to stem the tide…or tie the stem

My pumpkin is weeping.  It’s been weeping for a week.

What appears to be a ‘crown pumpkin’ self-seeded in the small strip of lawn between the curb and the curb garden. The vine traveled the length of the box, flowered, and eventually produced a small, green pumpkin. Generally speaking, pumpkins start out as small, shiny-green fruits. As they grow the fruit turns a duller green, than yellow and finally orange.

This one remained green. I chalked it up to its late-season arrival and assumed it would remain green ever after. Unceremoniously, I snapped it from the vine, dug out the remaining plant, and added it to the compost pile.

Then the strangest thing happened. Clear fluid dribbled out of the top of the stem. I assumed it would stop in an hour or so, but by the next day the pumpkin sat in a puddle of slime. I turned the pumpkin upside down over a bowl and left it.  The next time I checked, the bowl was full!

The pumpkin remains firm and healthy, but the stem continues to weep. I found a strand of raffia and tied it around the peduncle. Still it weeps.

It’s a mystery.  Any guesses?

weeping pumpkin

The Weeping Pumpkin Mystery

Happy Halloween!

A Pumpkin We Will Grow

First pumpkin

First Pumpkin

We’ve grown pumpkins every summer for a decade.  Our first crop was a happy accident when my then four-year-old spilled a bag of squirrel food.  We swept up most of it, then kicked the rest off the path into the dirt.  Before you can say ‘boo!!!’ we ended up with five pumpkins.

To celebrate that tenth anniversary, we’re growing an all-volunteer crop this year too.  I feel a bit guilty when I walk by our little patch and realize I had next to nothing to do with it.

Earlier this year I popped the lid off of one of my composting bins and spied a pair of pumpkin seedlings.  I smiled, put the lid back on and went about my business.  The next time I checked the bin was full of seedlings!  Clearly they enjoyed the impromptu greenhouse effect, though the lack of light was a concern.  I left the lid ajar and before I could even think of transplanting them, the crop took off.

pumpkin plants in compost 3-15-2013 7-56-04 AM

Not one to look a gift horse in the mouth, I prepared the garden bed intended for the crop and simply eased the entire contents of the compost bin over on its side, then into the bed.  I held my breath for a few days, hoping the trauma of being upended didn’t finish them off.  Instead, they continued to grow.

At last count, there are 11 little pumpkins growing on the various vines.  I’ve lost a few to snails and a critter with sharp teeth, but the remaining pumpkins look good.

2013, 07-03 4th of july fairy garden2

I’m a huge fan of all things Halloween, so growing pumpkins in the back yard brings me great joy.  After all these years I’m still in awe that one little seed can produce a vine that runs half the length of the house in three short months.  Beautiful yellow flowers give way to bountiful fruit.  Days shorten, vines brown and left standing is a bounty of orange goodness.

Do you have a summer tradition that brings you great joy?

You can check out my page Passionate about Pumpkins to see a decade of growing, displaying and my husband’s awesome carving.

When the Going Gets Tough, the Tough Get Gardening

Yoga in the garden

Yoga in the garden

When naming this blog, the concept was simple. I love gardening and achieve a sense of absorption and harmony when my hands are in the dirt.  The philosophy of nirvana is beautiful: the consciousness releases, and the mind becomes aware in a way that is totally unconstrained by anything in the conditioned world. The act of gardening is the closest I’ve come to that experience.

After a rough week, I could think of no better way to sooth my soul than a bit of exercise, followed by hard work in my garden.  I spent the morning pruning the topiary dinosaur, dead-heading several azaleas, raking dried leaves and topping off the compost bin.  I filled an old planter with the rocks I unearthed from the planting bed, then pulled weeds around the Chinese Pistache.  After hand-watering the smaller pots, checking the tomato seeds and smiling at the volunteer potato, it was noon.  I still had an hour to spare, so I high-tailed it to the nursery for some plants.

No-Go on the Flowering Seeds

My seed planting extravaganza was a complete failure this year.  The packets suggested direct sowing of cosmos, poppies and sunflowers.  How simple!  Out back, my vegetable garden practically planted itself, but the flowers are another story.  I finally removed camp ‘squirrels-stay-out‘ when weeks later nothing came up.  Okay, nothing is a bit of an exaggeration, but when you plant dozens of seeds and only manage to germinate one, it sure feels like nothing.  Perhaps I can blame it on the blackened fingernail I smashed in the door.  No green thumb in sight.

Off to the Nursery

I said a quick hello to my friend Doug at Almaden Nursery, then loaded my cart with sunflower, Alyssum and Cosmo starters.  April came and went, so no time to dillydally with new seeds.  A few impulse purchases made it into the cart, including a gorgeous orange-flowered geranium and some Vinca to fill in some bare spots.

Back home, I planted, planted and planted some more.  I apologized profusely whenever I unearthed a worm, quick to return them to the cool, moist soil below.  They deserve their own sense of nirvana like every one else.

What do you do when the going gets tough?  How do you regain your center?

gardening [ˈgɑːdənɪŋ]
noun: the planning and cultivation of a garden

nir·va·na (nîr-vän, nr-)
noun: An ideal condition of rest, harmony, stability, or joy.

Kitty Update

We’ve made a couple of visits to the Cat Hospital this week.  Our kitty is looking good, eating well, and ready to come home.

Beijing

Beijing sports a Tony-the-Tiger bandage

A Pumpkin We-Will-Grow

Pumpkin seedling tucked into the straw

Pumpkin seedling staying warm in the straw

That was easy!

The pumpkins are in. They’re lush, plentiful and thriving. In case you’re wondering about my mad gardening skills, you can sum them up in one word: compost.

I didn’t add compost to make them grow; instead they grew in the compost. I’m new to composting, and like any convert, I can’t say enough about the process (fun) and the end results (see photos, below).

When my nifty, thrifty, spinning composter reached capacity, I searched for alternatives. I re-purposed an old Rubbermaid bin, once used for children’s toys. I tossed in the straw left over from our Halloween party, then dry leaves, grass clippings and kitchen waste. I popped on the lid, drilled holes in the bottom for air circulation and drainage, and called it a day. Turning the compost was the biggest challenge. It was hard to get leverage in a narrow, small bin but I managed. About a month ago, I removed the lid and saw this: tiny pumpkin sprouts.  Awe-some!!!

Pumpkin Seedling

Pumpkin Seedling

Figuring I would transplant the seedlings when the weather warmed up, I simply returned the lid. I left it open just a crack for more light.

Then this happened:

pumpkin plants in compost

Rich compost = happy pumpkins!

pumpkin transplants from compost

Out of the compost and into the planting bed

transplanted pumpkins

Success! Pumpkins thrive in raised bed

Now all I have to do is figure out what to do with all those pumpkin seeds I saved from last year!  Any takers?

Have you found any surprises in your garden this year?

A Compost We Will Grow

Pumpkin Seedlling with seed attached

What the well dressed pumpkin seedlings are wearing this season.

I popped the lid off the green compost bin and oh, what a surprise.

Along side the rotting leaves and decaying kitchen scraps, there is a lot of growing going on. The first thing I noticed: the pumpkins! They’re enjoying the warmth and shelter inside the bin. I’m surprised though that they’ve found enough light. Will you look at them growing so tall and straight?

Lanky blades of grass are also taking root, along with sprouts of a to-be-determined nature.  I’m using an old Rubbermaid bin for additional composting, since I quickly filled my tumbling composter.  It’s hard to get leverage with the shovel, however, so I’m not turning it as often as I should. Now I don’t have the heart.

Pumpkin Sprout

Happy Sprout

Mushrooms in compost

Finding Nemo?

Sprouting mushrooms are right at home, the more predictable compost heap resident. The silver cap would look great in the fairy garden, but I’m resisting temptation. Its questionable origin makes it an unsafe bet for a tiny garden with small visitors. It’s cute though…if you’re into grey flowers.

Mushrooms in compost

Grey Blooms: Tim Burton Inspiration