Nature Dresses in Dramatic Colors for Spring

Author: Meera, April 16, 2018

Many Northern California gardens are beginning to awaken in a riot of color from bulbs planted in the fall. Local gardeners will tell you that to achieve lots of color in a spring garden, you can’t beat blooming tulip, daffodil, hyacinth, allium, crocus, anemone, and ranunculus bulbs.

 

 

These Kaufmannia tulips make a bold statement wherever they are planted

These Kaufmannia tulips make a bold statement wherever they are planted

 

 

Buried in the earth, the bulbs are growing and sprouting and colonizing throughout winter. Many bulbs naturalize and spread year over year. One of my favorites is the deep blue Siberian Squill (Scilla siberica). The plant comes from the family of asperagaceae and thrives in Zones 2-8.

 

 

Siberian scilla adds a lot of color for a small grouping of bulbs

Siberian squill adds a lot of color for a small grouping of bulbs

 

Bright green foliage appears first. Later, tight little buds open atop sturdy, straight stems. Each flower yields a bell-shaped bloom that is roughly one-half inch wide. It is only slightly fragrant. When established, three to five flowers form a stunning blue cluster on a six-inch stalk poking above sword-like foliage.

 

It’s best to plant these bulbs about six inches apart and three inches deep in early fall. Choose a spot in full sun or part shade. Siberian squill require medium amounts of water. For the greatest impact, do mass plantings under deciduous shrubs and trees or in circles or rows.

 

 

Masses of blooming daffodils provide a focus and cheery greeting in a bleak winter garden

Masses of blooming daffodils provide a focus and cheery greeting in a bleak late winter or early spring garden

 

 

When planted near yellow daffodils, the rich blue color of the Siberian squill will really pop. These bulbs do not need to be lifted as they will naturalize and colonize over the years. And come spring each year, you will have dramatic color combinations sprouting all around your garden.

 

 

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If you enjoy reading about gardening or farming topics, keeping chickens and bees, caring for fruit trees and vegetable gardens, or living well, check out my Henny Penny Farmette series of mysteries from Kensington Publishing and my health and wellness books from Adams Media/Simon and Schuster. The mysteries contain end-of-chapter tips on beekeeping and related topics. The rituals and meditation books feature tips and strategies for living your best peaceful life now.

 

 

All available online and in bookstores everywhere

These mysteries are available online and in bookstores everywhere

More than 150 rituals for sound mind, strong body, and meaningful connections to the people around you

More than 150 rituals for sound mind, strong body, and meaningful connections to the people around you

Anyone can find peace, clarity, and focus...all it takes is a moment

Anyone can find peace, clarity, and focus…all it takes is a moment

 

 

 

 

 

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Harvesting Garlic

Author: Meera, July 27, 2017

Now that it’s the last week of July, the garlic in my Henny Penny Farmette garden is showing signs of maturation. When the bottom stalk leaves turn brown and dry, it’s an indicator that the bulbs beneath the soil are ready for harvesting.

 

 

 

Onion and garlic are considered kitchen staples all over the world

Onion and garlic are considered kitchen staples all over the world

 

 

 

Garlic is easy to grow, harvest, cure, and store. If you like to cook, you already know how important garlic is as a culinary staple. Since it doesn’t require much space, you can grow it in a large pot or flower box on your patio. It’s well worth your time and effort.

 

 

The leaves of a garlic plant sprout from the bottom of the stem upward. The oldest bottom leaves will indicate maturity of the bulbs.

 

 

Garlic sends out green shoots as it grows in the spring

Garlic sends out green shoots as it grows in the spring

 

 

Use a fork to carefully loosen soil around the base of each garlic plant. It’s a good idea not to pull from the stems as they might snap. You don’t want to bruise or otherwise damage the garlic bulbs.

 

 

Once the plants are harvested, you’ll need to cure them by drying them in a cool, dark place. You could also tie them by their stems in small allotments and hang in protected shed or ventilated closet where the air can circulate around the bulbs.

 

 

Cloves of garlic ready to be peeled and prepared for cooking

Cloves of garlic ready to be peeled and prepared for cooking

 

 

 

When the garlic has been cured, remove any remaining soil. Braid the stems to hang the bulbs in your kitchen for easy access when cooking (these braids also make great gifts to friends who cook). Or, leave about 1/2 inch of stem in place before cutting off the rest and storing the garlic in a cool, dark, place.

 

 

Softneck Garlic: This type of garlic is preferred for braiding and includes the varieties of Creole, artichoke, and some Asian types of garlic. Softneck garlic grows best where winters are mild and this type of garlic stores for a longer period of time than hardneck types.

 

 

Hardneck Garlic: If you want garlic adaptable to cold winter climates and a taste that is closer to wild garlic, this is the type of garlic of choose. It includes the rocambole, purple stripe, and porcelain varieties.

 

 

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If you enjoy reading about farmette topics, gardening, and keeping chickens and honeybees, check out my series of cozy mysteries from Kensington Publishing in New York.

 

 

Click on this link: http://tinyurl.com/ya5vhhpm

 

 

The third novel in the Henny Penny Farmette series is due out in September 2017

The third novel in the Henny Penny Farmette series is due out in September 2017

 

 

 

 

 

Click on this link: http://tinyurl.com/yd7pz7af

 

 

The second novel in the Henny Penny Farmette series comes out September 27, 2016

The second novel in the Henny Penny Farmette series

 

 

 

 

 

 

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A Hive of Homicides or Hive Demise

Author: Meera, June 21, 2017

The title of the third novel in my Henny Penny Farmette series suggests loss of bees and murderous intent. No beekeeper wants to lose a hive, regardless of how it happens–whether some invader wants to kill the bees, go after the honey, or use the hive as a host for proliferation of its own species.

 

 

 

A healthy hive box with lid removed

A healthy hive box with lid removed

 

I’m not one-hundred percent positive why I lost a hive this year. My best guess was that the demise was due (not to homicide but rather) to a tiny little pest, possibly a beetle that weakened it so that the bees and queen fled leading to the hive’s demise.

 

 

My beekeeper neighbor and I spotted a small beetle and treated for it. My best efforts to keep my small bee house and the area around it clean as well as doing frequent hive inspections wasn’t enough. Now, I’m considering moving my remaining hive onto a higher, drier, sunnier location.

 

 

Bee garden in June bloom

Bee garden in June bloom

 

 

I’ll do it at night which is the correct time to move bees. You just put a little strip of packing foam along the hive entrance, gently move the hive, and place it in the new location. Remove the foam strip so the bees can leave at dawn and make sure there’s a water source nearby.

 

 

These honeybees will visit a backyard fountain throughout the day

These honeybees will visit a backyard fountain throughout the day

 

 

The bees will likely accept the move if there is water and food in the area. I like planting perennial bee gardens and flowers and bulbs with high nectar value for bloom throughout the year.

 

 

Since hives can be compromised by wax moths, hive beetles, and other pests (as well as parasites and diseases), frequent inspections to decipher a problem and treat it before it destroys your hive is imperative.

 

With supers (smaller hive boxes with ten frames each) on the hive in June, the bees will forage on abundant flowers and produce honey that can be taken off in July. That’s also the time to inspect for mites because these populations tend to swell during summer.

 

 

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If you’re interested in beekeeping and other farmette topics, check out my Henny Penny Farmette series of mysteries. All are available to order online at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and other retailer sites as well as traditional bookstores everywhere.

 

 

Murders at a N. California winery is a catalyst for ex-cop turned farmette owner Abigail Mackenzie

This third novel in the series will be released Sept. 2017

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Seasonal Blooms for Floral Arrangements

Author: Meera, November 6, 2016

Autumn in Northern California is one of my favorite times of the year. By November, many of the summer blooms in our flower beds have faded. Seeds have been collected for next year’s blooms. Now’s the time to put in bulbs and tubers for spring, but that doesn’t mean we have no blooms for a Thanksgiving floral arrangement.

 

another old garden favorite?

Nasturtiums will bloom until frost

 

 

 

 

 

These hardy roses bloom right through December.

These hardy roses bloom profusely right through December

 

The clocks have been turned back and the rainy season has arrived, but don’t tell that to the roses.

 

 

 

 

This red-gold polyantha rose will dazzle the eye in any landscape

This red-gold polyantha rose will dazzle the eye right up to Christmas

 

 

Red-gold roses, pyracantha berries, rustic seed pods, orange- and rust-colored zinnias, asters,  willowleaf cotoneaster, and dahlias are some of the garden plants that combine beautifully in a fall floral arrangement. To the harvest table, I also like to add some seasonal fruits like pomegranates and persimmons.

 

 

 

Zinnias are old garden favorites spanning generations of family gardens

Zinnias are old favorites spanning generations of family gardens

 

Thanks to the recent rain, the bougainvillea blazes in shades of fuchsia, orange, red, and purple.  Zinnia’s near the farmette’s bee house are still holding color and hanging on until cold weather arrives.

 

 

Pink geraniums are Interplanted with white bacopa in the kitchen window box

Pink geraniums are interplanted with white bacopa in the kitchen window box

 

And while pyracantha (fire thorn) berries add splashes of bright orange to a dark corner of the garden where bamboo towers to ten feet,  the Chinese lantern plant holds aloft dozens of small pink blooms like little lanterns.

 

 

 

 

 

Chinese lanterns are easy to grow and look beautiful in almost any corner of the garden

Chinese lanterns are easy to grow and look beautiful in almost any corner of the garden

 

 

 

With Thanksgiving three weeks away, I’m feeling confident that our table arrangement will include some of the season’s festive berries, seed pods, and blooming flowers collected from around the farmette.

 

In the meantime, I’ll notice the splashes of color to be discovered here and there and consider how to use them in a holiday bouquet.

 

 

Always pretty over an archway or against a wall, bougainvillea is  a garden standout

Pretty arching over a trellis or against a wall, bougainvillea is always a  garden standout

 

 

 

 

 

 

*          *          *

 

NEWLY RELEASED–The Murder of a Queen Bee (Kensington Publishing, NY–Sept. 2016).

 

Discover delicious farm-to-table recipes, farming tips, and wisdom as well as sort out a charming whodunnit. Also, enjoy gardening tips and farm sayings. Dig for clues while learning about bees and chickens. To learn more, click on the link under the picture.

 

 

 

The second cozy  mystery in the Henny Penny Farmette series, available Sept. 29, 2016

See, http://tinyurl.com/h4kou4g

 

 

 

 

 

 

The first novel in the Henny Penny Farmette series

See, http://tinyurl.com/hxy3s8q

 

This debut novel launched the Henny Penny Farmette series of mysteries and sold out its first press run. It’s now available in mass market paperback and other formats.

 

 

 

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Pruning between Storms

Author: Meera, January 19, 2016
pruning the roses generates cuttings that become new bushes

Rose cuttings will become new bushes

 

 

The roses, fruit trees, vines, and bushes need pruning, I’ve been itching to get to them, but it’s been raining. Storms have been moving through but with breaks. With rain predicted well into February and March, I don’t think it’s a good idea to put off the pruning. Warm weather will start everything sprouting.

 

A Level 2 storm moved through today with high winds and rain. I waited until almost lunch time before venturing out. The winds are still fierce, but there are patches of blue in the sky. I filled pots with soil, took cuttings of my roses, dipped them into root hormone, and inserted several in each pot. These will become new bushes for the flower gardens out front of the house.

 

 

Brightly colored narcissus are grown from bulbs that return year after year

Brightly colored narcissus bloom when little else shows color in the garden

 

 

I love this time of year when the stack of seed catalogs grows daily and nurseries are gearing up for the bare-root season. Already my family is asking when can we plant spring peas, pointing out that the onions and garlic are up and the rhubarb root has set up new leaves.

 

I did a walk around recently and noticed that with all the rain and warm temperatures, my Desert Gold peach trees and the Bing and Black Tartarian cherries are covered with buds. The buds are swelling but no blossoms yet.

 

 

Dwarf nectarine loses its leaves during winter

Dwarf nectarine needs to have its limbs pruned back by about one-third

 

 

Grass and weeds are up nearly eight inches and growing like crazy. My lavender and the earliest bulbs are blooming. All this lovely growth seems weird after four long years of intense drought.

 

 

Even songbirds and honeybees seem happy as they flit around the farmette between the storms. Surely, these signs are harbingers for the glorious spring to come. All the more reason to get busy pruning between these storms.

 

 

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These fragrant lilies return every year and bloom mid-summer

These fragrant lilies return every year and bloom mid-summer

 

After the recent rainstorm, I walked around my farmette and noticed small slivers of green sprouting up. They seemed to be everywhere.

 

 

I could understand the grass coming back, but the sight of summer-blooming lilies shooting through the soil was quite surprising. The sight of them got me to thinking about planting some bulbs for a springtime bloom.

 

 

The bees are drawn to the sweet scent of narcissus that have naturalized in the yard

The bees are drawn to the sweet scent of narcissus that have naturalized in the yard and bloom in the spring

 

 

Over the weekend, I dug a bed for some tulips and planted nearly 100 bulbs–some early and others late-blooming.

 

 

I also will plant some sweetly fragrant grape hyacinth. The bees are attracted to the pollen because of the scent. Honeybees especially love foraging for pollen on violet-hued tulips.

 

 

Honeybees need to find pollen all through the year, so planting bulbs that bloom before the spring wildflowers makes sense for those of us who care about the bees.

 

 

For tips on farming, raising chickens, keeping honeybees, and creating farm crafts as well as having a good mystery to solve, check out my novel, A BEELINE TO MURDER. It’s available everywhere and also online at Amazon.com and barnesandnoble.com.

 

Meera Lester's debut novel (release date 9/29/2015)

 

 

 

 

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Spate of Warm Weather Brings Out Early Blosssoms

Author: Meera, January 8, 2015

While schools across the nation are taking snow days because of frigid temperatures, the fruit trees on my Bay Area farmette are showing signs of bud swelling and early blossoming because of a winter heat wave.

 

Cities around the San Francisco Bay are experiencing early January temperatures of 70-plus degrees Fahrenheit, breaking weather records in some areas. Mother Nature certainly behaves strangely at times.

 

 

Desert Gold peaches are ready to eat in May but buds are swelling and showing color now

Desert Gold peaches are ready to eat in May but buds are swelling and showing color now

 

 

My five-variety apple tree and the early Desert Gold peach trees are covered with buds that are already showing color. I haven’t as yet gotten around to the winter pruning and spraying with organic oil. Maybe if there’s no wind today, I’ll squeeze that chore in with the others.

 

I did cut back the Washington navel orange that is infected with Leaf Miner, a pest that’s crossed the United States from Florida. It attacks new leaves, so I’m thinking if I prune and spray now before spring is in full swing, maybe I won’t lose this tree. Curiously, the pest hasn’t widely infected my blood orange trees but there are signs of it in the leaves of our Satsuma seedless tangerines.

 

 

 

The dark line inside a tunnel is the frass (feces) trail

The dark line inside a tunnel is the frass (feces) trail of the Leaf Miner

 

 

Elsewhere, I’ve done deep digging in the chicken run and added some wood chips and leaf material for compost.

 

The tea roses have been pruned back to 12 to 18 inches and old canes removed. I’m torn between wanting to add more roses in the beds in front of the bamboo plants on the east/west axis of our property or adding more lavender and sunflowers, favored by the bees.

 

Tomorrow, I’ll open and inspect my bee hives. I left honey stores this past autumn instead of harvesting. But if the bees have gone through all the honey, then I’ll have to add bee food until we get the first early bulb blooms and wildflowers. The French perfume lavender that the bees love is about the only bloom (bee food) in the garden now.  Luckily, I planted a lot of it.

 

 

 

A stalk of lavender rises out over the rose-scented pelargonium

A stalk of French perfume lavender rises out over the rose-scented pelargonium plant

 

 

 

The farm chores don’t just seem endless, they are. But whether the work is daily, weekly, or seasonal, there’s something deeply rewarding–even magical–about living close to the earth in harmony with cycles of seasons and the rhythms of nature. But I admit, it is a little strange to have such warm weather when winter has only just started.

 

 

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Harvesting Seeds from Onion Heads

Author: Meera, June 12, 2014

 

Closeup of the dried flower head of an onion with black seeds

Closeup of the dried flower head of an onion with black seeds

 

 

 

The red and yellow onions I planted during winter here on the farmette have produced lots of fat bulbs. Now that warm weather has arrived, the plants have sent up spikes with a flower head in a process called bolting.

 

I’ve been using the onions in culinary creations. Now that they are bolting, I’m saving the seed heads for my next round of planting (when the weather gets cooler again).

 

When the seed heads I’ve collected have dried a bit, black seeds will spill out. I shake them onto paper and then store them in paper envelopes where they can dry out even more.

 

 

Newly flowered onion seed head with honeybee

Newly flowered onion seed head with honeybee; see, upper right corner

 

 

The benefits of growing onions from seed rather than sets (also called seedlings) is that they perform better, are less susceptible to disease, bulb up somewhat quicker than seedlings, and store better. The seeds germinate quickly (7 to 10 days) and may be eaten in as early as 8 to 10 weeks.

 

Growing onions is easy. Broadcast your seed in a prepared bed when the weather is warm and all danger of frost has passed. Barely cover with soil (roughly 1/4 inch) and keep damp until seeds have germinated. If you prefer, start some onion seeds in flats to set out in the garden as seedlings.

 

Harvest bulbs throughout the growing season or wait until the tops flop over. Store onions in the refrigerator in a nylon stocking  wrapped individually between onions to maintain freshness. The National Gardening Association has some good tips for harvesting and storing onions. See http://www.garden.org/foodguide/browse/veggie/onions_harvesting/501.

 

 

With so many onion types from which to choose, decide how you’ll use each in the kitchen and then grow various heirloom types, depending on purpose and flavor. And . . . don’t worry if next spring, you discover your onions bolting. It’s a good thing to have a seed source for such an important kitchen staple.

 

 

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Transitioning between the Seasons

Author: Meera, January 2, 2013

 

California chili turns red when ripe

California chili turns red when ripe

 

Now that we’ve entered a new year and a new season, I’ve reluctantly pulled the last of the chili pepper plants from my garden. This past summer I grew Anaheim, ancho, chiles de arbol (hot and related to cayenne), banana (also known as yellow wax peppers), and jalapeno (called chipotle whenever the chilies are smoked). I save the seeds in white paper envelopes for replanting and use the chilies in cooking my Hispanic, Caribbean, Indian, Southwestern, and Thai dishes.

 

 

Cooks the world over love chilies for the flavors they add to their cuisines, however, chilies contain oils that can  irritate skin and eyes. When harvesting seeds from chili peppers, I wear latex gloves (like surgeons wear). The gloves protect my fingers and hands from the oils but allow me to easily work with the chilies.

 

Chili peppers contain oil that irritates skin and eyes

Chili peppers add terrific flavor and heat to many of the world’s cuisines

 

A little tip about gauging the heat of chilies is to look at the top (shoulder) and tip (pointed end). If the top is wide and the tip is blunt, the chili will be milder than a chili with a narrow top and a pointed end. See, http://whatscookingamerica.net/chilepep.htm.

 

I opted not to put in winter season crops this year. The clay soil needs turning (with a rototiller) and more amendments. With the vegetable garden devoid of plants now except for vagrant lettuces, carrots, and potatoes, I do winter clean-up chores such as composting, pruning, and preparing beds for spring.

 

The Bay Area forecast for the inland valleys last night predicted plunging temperatures and a hard freeze. I covered the citrus trees with blankets and a heavy sheet of black plastic. At sunup, the temperatures still hovered around 30 degrees Fahrenheit, and white hoar frost covered everything in the garden, including the sheeting.

 

 

Narcissus jonquilla have yellow or white petals

Jonquils (Narcissus jonquilla)

 

 

A garden needs winter–a time of rest, dormancy, and chill. Some plants require many hours of chilling to perform well. Freezes also eliminate some garden pests.

 

Our neighbor graciously gave us some bulbs a year ago that we planted in the fall. Now they’ve sprouted and are blooming. These white jonquil blooms are similar to those grown in my mother and grandmother’s gardens (although their jonquils were yellow with orange-yellow centers). The blooms add welcome color to the otherwise monochromatic winter landscape. These and other bulbs we’ve planted will eventually render some color in the garden and hopefully a little pollen for the honeybees while we wait for winter to transition into spring.

 

 

 

 

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