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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Fruit Drop with Young Hachiya Persimmon Trees

Author: Meera, September 21, 2017

My three-year-old Hachiya persimmon tree was loaded with fruit but recently went through a huge fruit drop. Possibly the long stretch of triple-digit summer heat coupled with the tree not getting enough water may have caused this problem. Young trees are more prone to fruit drop than trees that are mature.

 

 

Succulent, sweet, and juicy, these hachiya persimmons are worth waiting for

Succulent, sweet, and juicy, these ripe hachiya persimmons have a jelly-like texture

 

 

I find the fruit drop disconcerting because Hachiyas are my favorite persimmons. It did the same thing last year.

 

 

Each autumn, I wait with anticipation watching the fruit and checking it often until October for ripeness. This fruit is highly astringent so must be eaten ripe. The fruit texture  is like jelly with a sweet and slightly spicy flavor.

 

 

Besides the fruit, what I like about this persimmon is that it becomes a showstopper in the fall with red, gold, or yellow leaves. During winter, the fruit hangs on the tree like ornamentation.

 

 

These persimmons need another month to ripen to that telltale bright orange color

These persimmons need another month to ripen to that characteristic orange color

 

 

The Hachiya trees are not much bothered by pests or disease. They require at least a half day’s sun and well drained soil. These trees grow to 15 to 20 feet tall. They make great landscape trees and the fruit is a wonderful bonus.

 

 

 

 

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If you enjoy reading about growing fruit trees or heirloom plants or trying delicious recipes or keeping bees and chickens and you like a mysteries, check out my Henny Penny Farmette series of cozy mysteries from Kensington Publishing in NY. They’re available online and in traditional bookstores everywhere.

 

 

This new novel is available Sept. 26, 2017

A HIVE OF HOMICIDES is the newest offering in the Henny Penny Farmette series; available Sept. 26, 2017

 

 

 

 

Currently, A HIVE OF HOMICIDES is a featured title in Barnes & Noble’s September promotional BUY 3, GET 1 FREE sale.

 

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Everyone who buys a Kensington cozy mystery from the B&N in-store display or any Kensington cozy mystery from BarnesandNoble.com between 9/5/17 – 10/5/17 and registers their purchase at http://sites.kensingtonbooks.com/kensingtoncozies/BN/ will:

 

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–     Automatically receive a free Kensington Cozies recipe booklet plus a download code for the novel A STORY TO KILL by Lynn Cahoon after the sale has concluded.

 

 

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Win a signed copy of A Hive of Homicides along with a gorgeous reversible apron and a set of 2 chicken napkin rings. Enter before September 26 for a chance to win.

 

Reversible apron features a floral backside. Ties make it totally adjustable.

Reversible apron features a floral backside. Ties make it totally adjustable.

 

 

See, https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/33911114-a-hive-of-homicides?from_search=true

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Critter-proofing Your Bulbs

Author: Meera, January 5, 2017

I planted bagfuls of tulips, daffodils, crocus, and grape hyacinths over the last two years in the autumn. The daffodils are blooming now and the other bulbs in my garden have plenty of foliage.

 

 

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 winter garden

 

Because voles, moles, gophers, squirrels, raccoons, and other critters will dig and eat the bulbs and deer will devour the blooms at first blush of color, a savvy gardener must figure out how to protect these beautiful flowers.

 

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 now naturalized in my Henny Penny Farmette gardens

 

 

Throughout the Midwest of my youth, hillsides, front yards, and cemeteries were always places where daffodils grew in perfusion. Along with the arrival of robins and other songbirds, these flowering bulbs herald the coming light and warmth of spring. I’ve lost plenty of these plantings myself so have some tips to help you prevent such a loss.

 

These fragrant lilies return every year and bloom mid-summer

These fragrant lilies return every year and bloom mid-summer

 

 

Seven ways to protect flowering bulbs.

 

1. Grow them behind a double fence barrier. Deer can jump high and might go over one fence, but not a second one built near the first.

 

2.  Use mesh to deter moles, voles, gophers, groundhogs, and other digging critters.

 

3. Erect fences that are at least three feet tall and with at least a foot buried beneath the earth.

 

4. Plant in raised beds covered with mesh. The bulbs will be protected while the foliage and blooms poke through toward the light.

 

5. Clean up the area in the fall after planting the bulbs. That way, critters won’t be attracted to your bulb beds.

 

6. Consider using deer-repellent sprays on tulips and growing deer-resistant bulbs.

 

7. Use ammonia-soaked rags in coffee cans or old planting buckets around the garden to repel pests with a keen sense of smell such as rabbits and opossums.

 

 

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Enjoy reading about farming topics? Check out my cozy mysteries–A BEELINE TO MURDER and also THE MURDER OF A QUEEN BEE  (both in the Henny Penny Farmette series from Kensington Publishing). Kobo Books has A BEELINE TO MURDER on sale. Check out this incredible deal on https://www.kobo.com/us/en/search?Query=Meera+Lester

 

 

My farmette and bee-based novels are chocked full of recipes, farming tips, chicken and beekeeping tips, sayings and, of course, a charming cozy mystery. For more info, click on the links under the pictures.

 

The books are available through online retailers such as Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Target, BAM, Kobo Books, and Walmart as well as from traditional bookstores everywhere.

 

 

The first novel in the Henny Penny Farmette series

See, http://tinyurl.com/hxy3s8q

 

A Beeline to Murder is the debut novel that launched the Henny Penny Farmette series of mysteries. Initially released as a hardcover novel and in e-book format, it is now available as a mass market paperback.

 

 

 

 

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

See, http://tinyurl.com/h4kou4g

 

NEWLY RELEASED! This, the second cozy mystery in the Henny Penny Farmette series, is garnering great reviews from readers and industry publications.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Ralph Waldo Emerson once observed, “The earth laughs in flowers.” Among the many flowers I plant around the Henny Penny Farmette each year, sunflowers are my favorites.

 

 

What’s not to love about these gorgeous beauties that inspired master artists like Van Gogh, Monet, and Gauguin as well as farmers like my grandmother who put them in fruit jars and crockery to brighten the rooms of her Missouri farmhouse?

 

 

I like to grow smaller ones at the back of a flower bed and the giant ones against walls or at the back of my patch of summer corn.

 

 

 

These sunflowers stand about 12 feet tall and produce several heads

These sunflowers stand about 12 feet tall and produce several heads. Heritage varieties produce several heads.

 

 

 

Giant sunflowers need space to grow to full size since they will grow well over six feet. In my garden, they tower over the corn. Bees love them for their pollen. Kids love them when the foliage of the plants create a secret fort or a fairy circle. Humans, birds, and squirrels love them for their seeds.

 

 

 

 

The florets are falling off and the seeds have formed on this giant sunflower head
Giant sunflower heads are a rich source of pollen for honeybees

 

 

 

For best results, plant giant sunflowers at the back of a garden. They need good soil and full sun. Plant when the danger of frost has past. A rule of thumb to follow is to plant them about one inch deep and six inches apart. While the seeds are germinating, keep the soil moist.

 

 

Later on, when the plants stand about three inches tall, you can thin them. Leave about one foot between each plant. This enables a strong root system for form. The stalks will become sturdy and measure about three to four inches in circumference when fully grown.

 

 

Giant sunflowers add dramatic size and color against stone walls, garden sheds, and wooden fences
Giant sunflowers add dramatic size and color against stone walls, garden sheds, and fences

 

 

First come the gorgeous petals in green to yellow and then bright yellow. As the bees pollinate the florets and they drop, the seeds will mature. Seeds are either gray or brown in color.

 

 

I always cut the heads when the seeds are plump, firm, and begin to drop. I let the heads dry well in the sun for days before I remove the seeds. Fully dry seeds can be stored in containers for human consumption or to be fed to the squirrels and birds. Don’t forget to save some for planting in next year’s garden.

 

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If you enjoy reading about farmette topics (including gardening, beekeeping, and delicious recipes), check out my cozy mysteries A BEELINE TO MURDER and also THE MURDER OF A QUEEN BEE in the Henny Penny Farmette series (from Kensington Publishing).

 

 

 

These novels are available through online retailers such as Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo Books, and Walmart as well as from traditional bookstores everywhere.

 

 

The first novel in the Henny Penny Farmette series

See, http://tinyurl.com/hxy3s8q

Now available in mass market paperback, this debut novel launched the Henny Penny Farmette series of mysteries and sold out its first press run.

 

 

 

 

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

See, http://tinyurl.com/h4kou4g

The second cozy mystery in the Henny Penny Farmette series, available Sept. 27, 2016, is now available on Net Galley (netgalley.com) for professionals and readers who write reviews.

 

 

 

 

 

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We are growing several plum and prune trees here on the farmette, but because some were given to us as shoots from other people’s trees we don’t know the exact identity of some of our trees. However, the fruit from them is delicious.

 

 

Italian prune as a sapling

This young sapling is a French prune and produces fruit perfect for drying

 

 

A plum we are growing along the back fence of our property produces tons of bloom and lots of small-to-medium fruit with deep red coloring. The tree is self-fertile. Fruit aside, the tree has lovely dark reddish-purple leaves, spring to summer. We like the foliage so much that when it sprouted (plums love to sprout new shoots), we culled a couple of sprouts for new trees. Now we have three of those plums on our property and believe the cultivar to be a European Damson.

 

Another plum given to us is a yellow variety. The first year we lived here, that plum tree gave us a large-size crock bowl full of sweet, yellow, good-quality fruit. We believe it is self-fertile (although we keep honeybees and our neighbor’s have plum trees that quite possibly pollinate ours).

 

We are aware of a couple of yellow plums. One is a Japanese cultivar–Shiro–that produces a golden yellow plum with yellow flesh. Another is a European variety–Yellow Egg–that is self-fertile and produces large, oval, yellow-fleshed fruit. I do not know if the tree we are growing belongs to either of these types.

 

Last spring, we planted a self-fertile French prune–Agen. The fruit is small, red to purplish black with a sweet taste. It’s a late producer but is the standard drying prune for California. It can also be canned.

 

Plum and prune trees aren’t too fussy about soil, but they do respond to a feeding now and then. Japanese plums can easily take one to three pounds of nitrogen annually, while European plums will do well with one to two pounds of nitrogen.

 

Pruning is required. Japanese plums benefit from severe pruning at all stages (prune to a vase shape). European plums should also be trained to the vase shape and benefit from an annual pruning when the trees are mature to thin out shoots.

 

Thinning fruits (one fruit for every four inches) as soon as they form will yield stronger trees and larger fruit. As for pest, use an organic dormant spray for pests that winter over. Otherwise, plum and prune trees are joy to grow in the garden for their foliage, blooms, shade, and fruit.

 

 

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A large clump of bearded iris needing to be divided

Such a large clump of bearded iris must be divided

 

 

Dividing the rhizomes of bearded iris plants is an easy and necessary process as the plant ages. The division process is best done during late summer or early fall, but we are doing this job now on our farmette.

 

The rhizome is a thick tuberous type of structure that sends up stems and leaves and also produces roots. Many gardeners divide their iris clumps every three to four years. Our beds of iris have become overcrowded with many new baby plants. It’s time to divide.

 

 

The soil with fertilizer added should ensure a healthy start to the iris

Good top soil with low-nitrogen fertilizer ensures the iris get off to a good start

 

 

Before we move our iris from the side garden to planter boxes made of pressure-treated redwood, we prepare the soil in those boxes. We amend it with low-nitrogen fertilizer and compost.

 

 

The newly planted iris will reward us with dazzling blooms around Easter

These iris are planted too close–they will be replanted to  16 inches apart for air to circulate and for growing room

 

 

 

We cut back the foliage and pull off any of the sword-shaped leaves that have dried. Then we gently pull apart the new growth from the old clump. Pruning and cutting back the leaves helps ensure that pests do not overwinter.

 

You might expect purple iris to bloom around Easter but in late October?

These purple iris bloom in our garden in spring, making a lovely arrangement with roses

 

 

The rhizome produces more rhizomes over time. Eventually the original rhizome will wither and die. Regularly dividing the clumps ensures new baby plants and blooms for years to come.

 

 

 

 

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Managing Rose Rust

Author: Meera, December 30, 2012

I found rust on the undersides of leaves on some of my hybrid tea and floribunda roses while strolling around the farmette this morning. Usually by this time of year I have plucked off all the old leaves and cut the canes down to between 12 and 18 inches. The cutting back of hybrid teas and floribundas is necessary since those rose bushes produce flowers on new growth. Removing the leaves and cutting out the dead wood as well as pruning back the canes this time of year (end of December) encourages dormancy. I’m just now getting around to doing these chores.

 

Removing the foliage and destroying disease-infected leaves is a must. Do not put these in your compost pile. I keep a little bag next to me when I’m working with the roses in case I find evidence of rust or powdery mildew or black spot. Wind, rain, and overhead watering can spread the spores of these diseases. Destroying the leaves ensures that the plant gets a new start in the spring and that diseases cannot winter over on the foliage.

 

Rust most often appears on roses when the plant has moisture on its leaves for several hours. The rust infection looks like orange or yellow spots on the underside of the leaf. Eventually, it can migrate to the topside of the leaf as well. Leaves infected with rust will discolor and drop to the ground.

 

 

The long term solution to dealing with rust is to use drip irrigation or a soaker and to avoid overhead watering of your roses. As soon as you noticed rust, black spot, or mildew, remove and destroy any infected leaves and stems. Clean beneath the base of each plant and mulch with organic materials. That way, come spring your rose can start anew, producing strong canes, healthy leaves, and gorgeous blooms.

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