Thursday, March 26, 2015

Magnificent Magnolia

This magnolia stands in our front yard. It is a stunning tree, one of the largest magnolias in our neighborhood. Planted decades ago in the perfect spot, it shades our house from the fierce afternoon sun. During the heat of our Southern California summers, it is invaluable. Without this tree we would roast. The shade creates a cool spot to relax when cool areas are hard to find in our blazing summers. Even on the hottest day, this garden is pleasant. My dog, Bessie loves to rest in the grass under the magnolia. 
Our home is old by Los Angeles standards, built in 1922. The magnolia was planted by someone who was planning on it growing to its full potential. And it did. The lower branches have a large spread and they reach to within a few feet of our kitchen window, providing the perfect amount of privacy from the neighboring homes and the street. 
Hummingbirds love to nest in the magnolia. Two years ago the most amazing thing happened and a hummingbird built her nest in the branch closest to our kitchen window. Standing at the sink, we could see her feeding her babies. What a treat that was! Here are her twins on the day before they flew away.
To say I became a little obsessed about them is definitely true. I mean, they were nesting 4 feet from our kitchen window! That spring when I was gardening in the front shade garden (under the magnolia), I tried to stay away from her nest, but one day she really scolded me. Here's how a hummingbird mother says, "Stay away from my babies!!"

She got right up in my face, what a brave mama.

We had the tree pruned recently for the second time since we moved here in 1994. One reason we waited so long was because of all the birds that make it their home. It breaks my heart to think nests were destroyed but the tree had to be pruned. The transformation was amazing. With the tree thinned out we can now see the sunset from our front windows and door. For years the tree had obscured that view with its thick and lush foliage. Don't get me wrong, I love looking out our windows and seeing this tree. I prefer the tree to the view, but now both can be appreciated and last night the silhouette was stunning. 
To be honest, this magnolia is one of the reasons I wanted to buy this house. As soon as I drove up and saw this magnificent tree, I felt at home. You see, my grandparents had their own magnificent magnolia which towered over their backyard creating the atmosphere of my grandmother's magical garden. Her garden was mostly shade and she grew the most incredible fuschia plants, bleeding hearts and elephant ear plants with leaves which seemed gigantic to little me. My grandfather had a love-hate relationship with his magnolia. He loved enjoying a beer in the shade but the leaves were his torment. They drop basically continually and he was out there with his rake cussing those leaves on a weekly basis. My memory of that tree is the leaves made beds for my Barbies, and the seed pods were collected as treasure, the more the better. They are something to behold, those seed pods.
One amazing thing about this tree is the leaves. From above they are glossy green yet the underneath side is rust velvet. I spent many hours in my grandparents yard playing with those leaves, mindlessly touching the soft underside while listening to the grownups talk. What I wouldn't give to have one more of those afternoons in my grandma's garden hearing my grandpa tell stories. At least we have a magnificent magnolia of our own and wonderfully happy memories.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Spring Flowers

Spring is here!!! It's official. Stepping into my garden, the fragrances of sweet peas, freesia and pink jasmine lift my soul. I find myself pausing to treasure the joy that is spring; birds, bees, buds and beauty all around. 
Our newest tree, a dwarf nectarine. 
Looks like we will have a bumper crop of blueberries this year!
The past couple of weeks have been busy in my little slice of heaven. Soil has been amended, trellises are going up, seeds are being planted, and the seedlings are being transplanted. I've removed some lawn to make a new bed for melons and tomatillos. This is a part of my plan to expand the garden and create a pretty and productive place in the corner of our yard which has been neglected for years.
It is that magical time of year when planning is done and action begins, when possibilities are endless and the bugs and mildew have not brought their frustration upon me. I will enjoy every minute of the hard work, stiff muscles and aching back...because spring is in the air and like the garden, I am renewed.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

How to Build a Green Bean Tee Pee

Deciding of what type of trellis to build for my beans and tomatoes is my current challenge. I have tried various types of trellises and this year I am making a new type of bean tee pee. Well, it's new for me. I wanted to use materials that I already have instead of buying new supplies. I have these round garden poles that are coated in green plastic. They are 8 feet tall. I discovered that a PVC coupling fits perfectly on the end of the pole and it doesn't slip down because of the raised ridge inside the coupling. Drilling holes in the coupling allowed me to tie twine to it. This is how I was able to attach 8 strings to the top of the pole without them sliding down.
Place the coupling in a vice and use a relatively large drill bit.
Drill through both sides of the coupling.
Now drill another set of holes to make 4 holes.
The coupling slips easily onto the end of the stake.
Actually I decided it would be much easier to cut the twine and tie it to the coupling before attaching it on the pole. It was at least 90 degrees in Los Angeles this weekend, so the idea of standing on a ladder and fiddling with all that twine just did not appeal to me. In the cool garage, I tied the twine onto the coupling, taking care to bundle the long strands so they did not get entangled.
I have high hopes for my beans, so I want these tee pees to be as tall as possible. I didn't want to pound 2 feet of the pole into the ground for stability, so I pounded 3 ft long rebar stakes into the ground, leaving about 8 inches above ground. Then I pushed the green pole about one foot into the ground right along the rebar and tied them together with wire.
After placing the coupling onto the top of the pole, I used "U" shaped hooks to attach the strands of twine about one foot from the pole, evenly spaced.
It helps if you compact the soil where you push in the hook, otherwise it will pull out easily.
I planted 3 seeds near each string and I'll thin them to 2 each. 

One tee pee down, 4 more to go. Not today though. It's too hot, and I am going to plant my beans in succession. In a month or so, I'll make the next one. I have space for 5, so if I make one per month I should have beans all summer!

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Water Droplets on Red Russian Kale

Sometimes the garden will give you a little gift. Today I spotted these water droplets on the kale. Like jewels placed there by garden fairies, they twinkled in the light. 
Little cabochon gems tucked here and there. Perfectly smooth, each was seemingly too large to remain intact.
Magical treasure.

Moment savored.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Rat-Proof Strawberry Cage - Because We Needed One

The rats have discovered my strawberries, so the war is on. For weeks I have been watching the plants as they awakened from winter's nap, admiring the beautiful blossoms, waiting for the berries to ripen. This bed was transplanted with strawberry runners taken from another bed and it was full of tiny berries in various stages of development. One day I noticed one of the berries was half eaten. Only the ripe red part was gone. The unripe part of the berry remained attached to the plant. At first I thought it was slugs but after careful inspection, there were no signs of them. A few days later more berries were ripening and over night the same thing happened. Something was eating half of the berry, leaving the unripe part behind. 

We have fruit rats in our neighborhood. They are foul and I do not want to even think about them. Nothing is more creepy to me than mice and rats. UGH! They eat our tangelos and pomegranates. That is bad enough, but the strawberries are mine. They can't have them. So I decided to build a cover to protect my delicious berries from those nasty creatures. I have a dog, so putting traps in that area is not an option, and poison is out for the same reason. Here is what I came up with a couple of weeks ago.

I used a sheet of 1/4 inch wire mesh, and bent it to create a cover. I used a wooden stake as a straight edge to fold up about six inches along each edge.
To make the corners, I cut along the fold line to the corner.
Then I folded the corner and secured it with wire.
Then I turned it over and placed it over the strawberries, taking care to push it down so there were no gaps where hungry rats could enter. Placing a couple of rocks on it secured it in place, and guess what? It works!! 

If the rats discover the strawberries in the main garden, I won't be able to cover them because the space is too big. The traps will have to come out (a fence keeps the dog out of that area). I intend to win this war. 

Monday, March 9, 2015

My Experience with Newspaper Pots

My rookie season of indoor seed starting has been a struggle. My first batch of seedlings damped off. They died of too much water, and because I didn't disinfect my recycled plastic six pack containers. I tossed them in the garbage and tried again. After doing some more research I decided to plant my second batch of seeds in newspaper containers. They are easy to make and I had basically all of my seeds germinate. The seedlings look fantastic and all was well...

Then I noticed some type of gray mildew-looking stuff had started growing on some of the little paper pots. It started at the edge and grew toward the stems.
I asked my local nursery woman and she said it is impossible to tell if it is a beneficial organism or a destructive one. Luckily I didn't have plans for my day yesterday because it turns out it takes a long time to repot 100 plants into red plastic cups.

I gently removed the damp newspaper and scraped off the top soil, then repotted them in potting soil. I noticed that the seedlings that had 2 sets of true leaves had roots which were already starting to penetrate the newspaper. It seems that if you left the seedlings in the paper pots, there may come a time when removing the paper pot would damage the roots. The pots can be place directly in the ground but that gray creeping stuff looked suspicious to me and so out it went.

The Solo plastic cups were rinsed, then I used a nail to poke holes in the bottom. I found it worked best to do 2 cups at once because they were more stable and less likely to collapse and crack. I didn't need a hammer, just used thick gloves and pushed the nail through.
I used a sharpie to label the cups and watered the seedlings thoroughly. 

We have had the most glorious weather the past few days so the seedlings were outside all day. I tell you, Southern California plants have it easy when it comes to the hardening off period. It's not such a shock to go from a 74 degree house to an 80 degree day. Under the patchy shade of our arbor, they had intermittent sun and there was not one casualty. They all made it, even the ones which were just germinating. 

Today they spent the day outside and after one more night indoors I think they'll stay outside. The garden beds are ready. I'm ready. Now the plants need to get a little bigger and into the garden they will go! 

Fingers crossed!

Saturday, March 7, 2015

A Walk Through the Garden

Today is one of those days that makes living in Los Angeles worth all the traffic. Spring is here and what a glorious day it is! I know many of you are still experiencing snow and cold, so hang in there. Spring is on the way.

My seedlings are coming along so today was the day I prepared my beds. The winter plants are winding down and the open areas were cultivated and amended, then watered. After a long morning of digging, it was such a treat to walk through the garden and take some photos. My back is sore but my heart is happy.
Wildflower garden, future home of tomatoes.
Freesia is my favorite flower fragrance.
Lettuce, spinach, carrots, strawberries and onions; future home of tomatoes.
Spinach and carrots
Volunteer lettuce 
All that's left is the celery and cilantro; future home of cucumbers and green beans.
Cabbage under tulle net
Maui onions for my dad
The blueberries are showing a hint of purple.
Minneola tangelo