Forcing bulbs

Every fall I order bulbs to force for the holidays and spring. This season’s selection was Ziva Paperwhites (a classic for Thanksgiving and Xmas), and Narcissus. Silver Chimes are my absolute favorite, and then I usually pick another variety to try out. Paperwhites can be potted up in October, but the narcissus bulbs go into the garage refrigerator (where there aren’t any fruits or vegies to give off gas that can affect bloom) for about 6 weeks. Then they are potted up and placed outside in a cold, shady spot until the leaves are about 4 inches tall.

Then I sprinkle a big pinch of grass seed on the top and cover with bird cages (to keep the birds from eating the seed). Be sure to keep moist until the grass germinates.

The results are fresh looking, fragrant flowers that look so natural inside or out. When the flowers fade, the bulbs can be planted outside, where they will re-bloom year after year.

Chicken coop upgrade

Last January, we added a new coop behind the chicken shed. It is a nice covered shelter with 2×4 roosts up off the floor. This made room for more chicks and provided an easy way to collect eggs and chicken manure for our compost pile.

The four new hens have just started laying and we obviously need another nest box. The girls were making such a racket trying to share this spot! So I added another hole that opens into the inside cupboard, by cutting a board and adding some trim. Complete with a divider and plastic tub of hay ready to go. The new girls (4 out 6) love the new coop and roost in here every night. But the older hens still like to sleep in the original nest box where we brooded the new chicks last summer. The tarp on the floor catches the chicken manure for the compost pile.They started using the third nest box right away. It’s so easy to collect the eggs from the inside cupboard. Every hen lays a specific size, shape and color, so it’s easy to tell the difference.

Baby owls for Christmas

Since our owl nest box overflowed with litter in 2011, we stared cleaning it out every year beginning for the babies of 2012. It became a tradition to empty it out every year at Thanksgiving, after the young owls had moved on, in preparation for use in the spring. This last year on 11/24/16, we got a surprise. When we started lowering the box, an owl flew out!  We thought it was roosting in there because of the cooler weather.  But when the box tilted we heard two cracks against the side. Shocked to see eggs inside, we put it right back up…. and waited to see what happened. The eggs were due to hatch at Christmas time.The mating behavior continued through early December and the female owl stayed in the nest box every night. Since they normally lay 3 to 5 eggs, we hoped that even if the two were damaged, it would be OK. The female was nervous after that… leaving the box and making noises in the palm tree when we weed whipped below. The weather since then has been rainy and cold… frosty even. After receiving 6 inches of rain in the last week or so, I was finally able to sit out and listen last night.  It’s official!  There are definitely baby owls in there. The female flew out to hunt with her mate, leaving the young alone for awhile. I could hear at least 2 or 3 baby owls screeching inside.

As to why they are breeding during the winter, I have a theory. Our last brood of young owls left last June. We also have a neighbor with owl boxes that had several babies during that time, so there were lots of owls looking for new territory.  In late July, there was another couple of owls that were trying take over the nest box and our resident pair were very upset! There was fighting like I’ve never seen before. Screeching (even during the day) and going after each other like crazy! I think that this may be a new couple, and they wanted to breed and make the box their own as soon as possible. Be sure to stay tuned…

Our barn owl history with stories/pictures  More owl posts

Around the grounds: August

Harvest time in the garden.

A fresh layer of gorilla hair (shredded redwood bark) really spruces up the place. I like that it stays in place better than chips on a slope.

Naked ladies (Belladonna Amaryllis) everywhere.

Big beautiful Meyer Lemons year round. Billbergia Bromelaid in bloom.

Blue ribbon winners

Checking out the exhibits at the fair every year is always so interesting. This was my first year with entries in the Santa Cruz County Fair… and brought home eight first place ribbons!  County fairs are always a fun competition and a chance to meet other plant lovers.

Around the grounds: July

The morning sun lights up the lanterns out front.

I like to pot up a six pack or two of coleus every summer – such beautiful colors! Lots and lots of Meyer Lemons on our little tree. Zinnias galore in felt bag planters, where they are safe from deer and gophers. These come in handy as flowers to dress up succulents on the tables of Moss Landing Cafe. Owl feathers can be found almost daily this time of year… barn owl molting season. Our Deodar Cedar trees put out a few cones as usual in early spring. But now there are lots of new small cones too… that’s very weird.

Snow Tower Echium

Echium pininana alba, also known as Echium ‘Snow Tower’ is a rare white form of the Tree Echium. This perennial/biennial is a huge source of nectar for bees and butterflies. It has grown over 10 feet tall and has been blooming for months. It will drop seeds in the fall, and the new plants will emerge and grow to bloom the following year.

Succulent dish racks

I’ve always loved pretty dishes and hate to hide them away in the cupboard. This is a nice way to enjoy them every day. The salvaged dish racks are lined with moss and filled with potting soil and dishes. The succulents that I’ve chosen for these will stay compact and are meant to look like bubbles overflowing the sides. The silverware adds the finishing touch (and support for flowers).

Around the grounds: June

This huge aeonium flower stalk is amazing! Already trimmed off a couple dozen stems of blooms for table vases, and it’s still going strong. Love the way the lower leaves are turning color.Nasturtiums climb over everything with their perky (and also edible) flowers. This cactus used to be a 4″ tall in a pot on my windowsill over 20 years ago. Epiphyllum mixed with burro tail succulents love the shade of this oak tree.

June berries

Our berry bushes (mix of blackberries, raspberries and olallieberries) have produced like never before this year. The new vines that will bear fruit next year have had to be cut back so I can get in there to pick them… a bowl like this every 2 or 3 days!  I can’t make pies fast enough, and there’s already bags in the freezer for those fruitless winter months.

Baby owl update

The five baby owls that hatched this year have all fledged and are roosting in our palms trees. The first three started early, and the youngest two struggled to keep up. Our front yard is still ‘home base’ for the young owls as they continue to improve their flying techniques. It’s obvious they love each other as they twitter and snuggle… encouraging one another to try new things. 014_1The parents aren’t far away and one occasionally stops by the nest box with a dead rodent and the babies let out a screech and fly there to get it. Whoever grabs it first, hops from branch to branch, trying to keep it away from its siblings, until it can swallow it. This brood of owlets have been pretty quiet so far, which indicates they have been well fed. That should change soon, as the parents withhold food as incentive to teach their babies to hunt their own prey.

Stink lily

This stink lily (Dracunculus vulgaris) came up this year bigger than ever. Beautiful and unusual, but once it warms up… it reeks of rotting meat (yuck), and is covered in buzzing flies.

Bloomazing!

What has caused everything this spring to bloom so above and beyond? The long suffering drought… followed by above normal rain this season? We don’t know, but it’s amazing!
This Epiphyllum (Orchid cactus) has over 50 buds!! We can hardly wait until it’s a huge, hanging mass of flowers. My sweet peas have grown so tall that I have to use a ladder to cut my daily bouquet. I learned to plant sweet pea seeds in mid September when I lived in the hot San Joaquin valley. They sprouted nicely in the warm fall weather to about 6″ tall. Peas handle cold winter temperatures easily, and they start to shoot up by February. You get blooms early, that fizzle later in the hot weather. Now with the cool summers here on the coast, they keep blooming for months!This Echium pininana alba, also known as Echium ‘Snow Tower’ is a rare white form of the Tree Echium. It’s grown over 12 feet tall (so far), and is covered with bees. Totally drought tolerant, this plant doesn’t need any summer watering, and really dresses up the cactus garden. The lupine across the street is putting on a show like never before. Until last year, Popeye the neighborhood horse lived there, and kept everything trimmed to the ground. This property was sold and he had to move next door. Hopefully the new owners like lupine too.

Owl family update

Yesterday was the first day that the female owl didn’t roost in with the young ones. She was seen here during the day this past week, on the lookout for predators. The usual suspect being our cat, Buddy. Check out the video of her screeching at him. The babies seemed well behaved last night… pretty quiet without their mother around all day. She had been leaving at sunset for the past several nights to help her mate hunt. That tells us that the smallest owlet can swallow a mouse whole now (yipee!). We’ve been hearing them a lot lately… at least three distinct voices when they screech and hiss. They will be poking their heads out soon, and stepping out to practice flapping. Stay tuned…

Wedding sunflowers

Put these together for a small beach wedding a couple of weeks ago. Sunflowers aren’t in season in California yet, so they had to be shipped from Baja, Mexico. They turned out very summer-like with succulents and all! The mini-sunflower-like mums worked perfectly for corsages and boutonnieres. The attendants (2 daughters and 4 sons) were wearing navy blue, so blue ribbons were added to match. Congratulations to the happy couple!

Succulent stuff for sale

It’s been busy around here, getting things ready for the Smart Gardening Fair.
Kitchen containers such as colanders are so pretty planted with succulents. This succulent dish rack looks like soapy water bubbling over with dishes and colorful silverware mixed in. Frames, succulent bonsai trees and assorted baskets are ready to go. The succulents growing out of the watering can looks like water pouring out. A planted side table holds a purse teacup and cute baby shoes filled with succulents. This iron bar stool is double-decked with succulents.

Tiny succulent pots

I put together these cute little succulent pots for holiday gifts during the first week of December. Just a small piece of floral foam stuffed into the pot, topped with moss… and a succulent cutting stuck in, to hold it together. Almost two months later, they are still thriving. The four on the left have been inside and are totally dry. The three on the right were outside on the patio, and are soaked from rain. So hardy and long lasting! And of course, they can be planted outside at any time.

Staghorn fern in oak tree

This old Platycerium bifurcatum is thriving in the rainy weather we’ve had recently. You can see the brown spores on the underside of the frond on the left. The spores will be released when it warms up this spring… although unlike Platycerium superbum, this variety is usually propagated by ‘pups’ instead of spores. More Staghorn ferns

Chicken coop

Since we had to move our fence over recently, it seemed like a good time to do something different with this spot on the back side of our chicken shed. So began the chicken coop upgrade project.Plans began for a small attached coop when I came up with the brilliant idea of cutting through the back wall and use the existing shelves for nest boxes. 012_1We cut a hole and put up wood strips to cover the cracks in the old shed wall, and added a section of fence on the other side. The ground was leveled and covered with wire, with block walls on both sides. Salvaged wood and fiberglass was used for the next steps.A couple of 2 x 4s with smoothed edges went up for roosts. The floor was covered with straw and we added a ‘dust bath’ tub of wood ash and diatomaceous earth. Hens naturally take dust baths in dry dirt to keep away pests like mites. This tub will stay dry in here during the wet winter.

The shelf worked out beautifully for next boxes, where eggs can be gathered from inside. The large door on the downhill side allows for easy access. The hens are hesitant to use the coop as it’s new and different, but we’re optimistic that they will love it. Then we can more easily introduce new chicks in the future, using our old community nest box as a brooder. We’ll just divide the chicken yard with wire until the chicks are old enough to mix with the older hens.

Upgrade one year later

Fancy Fungi

What is this round orange ball poking out of the dirt? After getting several inches of rain, the ground is thoroughly soaked… and the mushrooms are emerging!The Amanita muscaria is one of the most striking of all mushrooms. The tops are beautifully speckled white and dark orange, with a frilly skirt around the stem. They grow as big as a dinner plate!

Smaller white capped mushrooms are popping up all over under the cedars. These glossy brown caps blend in well with the wet leaves. Kuehneromyces mutabilis, commonly known as the sheathed woodtuft are edible.

Terrarium: How To

Recently, I accepted the challenge of planting a terrarium for another member of AHA… and I just love the container! With the recessed area in the middle of the stone-like pottery base, it’s obviously made to be a terrarium. Great design – it’s stable and will not tip over. So this is how it came together… First I filled up the recessed area with 3/8 inch gravel mixed with some activated filter carbon (to filter the air and water). Then added a piece of fiberglass screen cut to fit, (or you could use moss), to keep the soil above the gravel. Gathered together some ferns, mosses, pretty rocks, and one of the ceramic frogs that our friend Marcella makes. So perfect for this piece!  I mixed and moistened approximate equal parts peat moss and potting soil and shoveled in a few inches. Then carefully added the plants and arranged the rocks and frog.008_1As an experiment, I added a small tillandsia (air plant) and bromeliad…  just to see if they will thrive in this new little ecosystem.