Transplanting a Decades-Old Crape Myrtle Tree

Author: Meera, May 15, 2018

Friends said it was a bad idea. The tree was too large, too old, and too unwieldy to dig up and transport from my daughter’s property to mine. The crape myrtle  would not survive, they told me, because its large root would need to be severely cut. Also, without a crane or other lifting device, three of us would be struggling to deal with such a heavy tree.

 

 

 

The bark of this crape myrtle tree is lovely in winter

The bark of this crape myrtle tree is lovely in winter

 

 

 

 

I won’t say moving the tree  was easy. It had been standing for 28 years next to my daughter’s house, but she wanted to make way for new landscaping. When the family decided to part with the tree, they called on a family friend who worked as an arborist. He would do the cutting and digging of the tree.

 

Crape myrtles (of the genus, lagerstoemia) are available as shrubs and trees and are lovely in bloom with showy paniculate flowers in pink, fuchsia, red, or lavender. They are one of the trees that make little-to-no pollen (great for allergy sufferers). Light pruning during the growing season can produce a second bloom. Much beloved in the deep south, these trees remain stately and beautiful for up to fifty years.

 

My daughter’s tree arrived at the farmette in mid-October strapped onto our friend’s truck. The roots had been cut away. There were no fine root hairs or stems left–just bare wood. Ditto for the tree canopy–just a few hefty branch stubs. I wondered if our efforts would prove futile.

 

Hubby and I prepared a large planting hole just off from the patio. We added amendments to the clay soil and drove in stakes to keep the tree stable for a year or more until it had sufficiently developed roots. I added root hormone to the soil and watered deeply the first day and several times that week.

 

 

 

A leafy green canopy is developing on the limbs of the transplanted tree

A leafy green canopy is developing on the limbs of the transplanted tree

 

 

 

The winter rains came. I watched, waited, and wondered if there would ever be sprouting of any kind on the woody ends where branches had been amputated. Despite a canopy, the tree’s trunk, a beautiful, gray-green wood, afforded a kind of beauty to the austere winter garden. Before spring, I scraped a fingernail on the back of the trunk and discovered the wood was not dried out but as green and moist as a young sapling.

 

A spell of warm weather and the buzzing of bees in early spring drew my attention upward. Our tree had sprouted a flurry of bronze-green leaves. Pink blooms will likely appear in June or July.

 

I’m happy now that we went to all the trouble of bringing that tree onto the farmette for transplanting. We’ll have lovely pink blooms over the remaining summers of my life thanks to the crape myrtle tree being so long-lived.

 

 

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If you enjoy reading about gardening and farming topics, check out my Henny Penny Farmette series of mysteries: A BEELINE TO MURDER, THE MURDER OF A QUEEN BEE, and A HIVE OF HOMICIDES (Kensington Publishing).

 

Each book is chocked full of tips for gardening, keeping bees and chickens, and growing heirloom fruits and vegetables. There are also plenty of delicious recipes to try. Find these books on Amazon.com, Barnes & Noble.com, Walmart.com and other online retailers or purchase at traditional bookstores everywhere.–Meera Lester

 

 

 

My debut novel, the first in a series of three cozy mysteries set on the Henny Penny Farmette

Novel #1 in the Henny Penny Farmette series

 

 

 

Novel #2 in the Henny Penny Farmette series, available September 27, 2016

Novel #2

 

 

 

This new novel is available Sept. 26, 2017

Novel #3

 

 

 

 

 

 

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French Lavender–A Favorite of Pollinators

Author: Meera, March 1, 2017

It’s bare-root season, a special time of the year for me. I like to visit local nurseries and check out the new offerings of heirloom roses, fruit trees, berries, herbs, and flowers. No matter which nursery I visit, I always seem to spot the lavender first.

 

 

Honeybees love lavender

Honeybees love lavender

 

 

After we moved to the Henny Penny Farmette, we put in lots of French lavender. But after a few years, the stalks have grown old and woody.

 

Recently, on a visit to a nearby nursery, we purchased twenty one-gallon plants of French Lavender, an upright perennial that we’ve discovered blooms almost all year long in our Bay Area climate.

 

 

Pots of lavender await planting

One-gallon pots of lavender await planting

 

 

 

 

Now, they are hardening off in my garden until I get around to planting them.

 

 

The word “dentata” means toothed and a closer examination of the foliage reveals fringed indentations.

 

 

This aromatic, shrub has been around for centuries. Valued for its ornamental and medicinal properties, it also is used for soil erosion control. Once established, the lavender is drought tolerant.

 

 

Many gardeners love this lavender for its gray-green leaves. When other flowering plants in the garden have finished their blooming cycle, this lavender keeps producing tall spikes of bright purple florets.

 

 

Not as brilliant in color as the English or Spanish lavender, the French lavender is lovely grouped together in a single area where its flower stalks can sway in the wind. Our honeybees and other pollinators love it.

 

 

 

*          *          *

 

 

 

If you are a fan of cozy mysteries and love farmette topics like gardening of heirloom vegetables, herbs, and fruits as well as keeping chickens and bees, check out my Henny Penny Farmette series of cozy mysteries from Kensington Publishing.

 

 

The first book in the Henny Penny Farmette series, Kensington Books 2015

The debut novel in the Henny Penny Farmette series sold out its first printing

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Besides a cozy mystery to solve, these books mix in delicious recipes, farming and gardening tips, facts about keeping bees and chickens, and morsels of farm wisdom.

 

 

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

COMING SOON– Sept. 2017, the third novel in the Henny Penny Farmette series

 

 

 

 

 

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

The second cozy mystery in the series

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The Star of Spring–the Mighty Magnolia

Author: Meera, February 24, 2017

My spouse hails from the Caribbean where a variety of magnolias grow, but many in the islands are under threat from deforestation and small distributions. He’s wanted to plant a magnolia tree since we moved to the farmette. Recently, on a rainy evening, we ventured out to our local nursery and purchased a Royal Star and a Jane magnolia for the large entrance area at the front of our property.

 

 

A honeybee checks out the blossom on this Royal Star magnolia

A honeybee checks out the center of the fragrant blossom on this Royal Star magnolia

 

 

Often, it is the m.  grandiflora that comes to mind when someone mentions a magnolia tree. It’s a big evergreen tree with glossy leaves, large tulip-shaped white flowers, and dense canopy. This tree blooms summer and fall, while other types of magnolias bloom before their leaves show in the spring.

 

Magnolias offer gardeners many options–evergreen or deciduous types, wide-range of flower colors, slow or fast-growing trees, and small to large and stately specimens. Named for the French botanist Pierre Magnol (1638-1715), the genus includes about 100 species.

 

Magnolia blossoms are fragrant and attract various pollinators. While some magnolias grow well in containers for a few years or as espaliers, the larger, showy trees are often planted along city streets and in parks.

 

Until we have settled on the exact planting site for each of our magnolias, they will remain in their pots. Where to plant them is an important decision since magnolias do not like to be moved once established. As a general rule, they need rich well-drained soil and benefit when the soil has plenty of organic matter like leaf mold, peat moss, and ground bark mixed in at planting time.

 

 

Unfurled buds of the Jane magnolia hold the promise of gorgeous blossoms to come.

Unfurled buds of the Jane magnolia hold the promise of gorgeous blossoms to come.

 

 

Magnolia trees must be planted no lower than their original soil level (where the trunk begins in the planting pot). Because they need plenty of water until established, it’s a good idea to dig a watering basin around them. Young trees must be staked to protect against wind damage.

 

 

We chose the Royal Star magnolia (magnolia stellata) because it can hold abundant and spectacular white (or pink) perfumed blossoms throughout spring into summer. Reaching a height of 15 feet with a canopy spread to 10 feet, this beauty looks magnificent against a garden fence. Such a barrier will help protect it against the wind and also create a foil for the blossoms. Come autumn, songbirds will feast on the high-fat content of the star magnolia’s capsules of orange seeds.

 

 

Still in its pot, this "Jane" magnolia is positioned in what will be its planting hole

Still in its pot, this “Jane” magnolia is positioned in what will be its planting hole

 

 

The Jane magnolia is one in a Little Girl series of hybrid magnolias that include: Ann, Betty, Judy, Pinkie, Randy, Ricki, and Susan. These magnolias were developed in the mid-1950s at the National Arboretum by Francis DeVos and William Kosar. Jane has large-cup flowers opening reddish-purple with white interiors. Shortly after the blossoms show, the leaves emerge as a coppery-red before turning green.

 

At the moment, our Jane magnolia, with its roots balled and wrapped in burlap and looking like a shrubby bush, is covered with an abundance of buds as yet unfurled. The buds hold the promise of the fragrant purple blossoms in a couple of weeks. This slow-growing magnolia will reach a height of 10 feet with a 10-foot canopy spread. The plant will be a sure show-stopper in any Northern California  garden, especially in spring.

 

 

 

 

 

*          *          *

 

 

If you enjoy reading about gardening or other farm topics like keeping bees and chickens, check out my cozy mysteries–A BEELINE TO MURDER, THE MURDER OF A QUEEN BEE, and (coming Sept. 2017) A HIVE OF HOMICIDES (in the Henny Penny Farmette series from Kensington Publishing).

 

My farm-based novels feature delicious recipes, farming tips, chicken and beekeeping tips, sayings and, of course, a charming cozy mystery. 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

 

 

 

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

See, http://tinyurl.com/h4kou4g

 

 

 

 

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

See, http://tinyurl.com/zsxqmm3

 

 

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A Forty-foot Tall Brazilian Beauty

Author: Meera, September 22, 2016

We recently lost the elm tree that stood about 25 feet tall next to the small house on our Henny Penny Farmette. On hot days, we really feel the heat now that the elm’s shady canopy is gone.  Among the trees we are considering as a replacement for the elm is a Jacaranda mimosaefolia.

 

 

These jacaranda trees were tiny when shipped to us but over the last month have doubled in height

This jacaranda tree was  10 inches when shipped.  It will reach a height of 40 feet.

 

 

This Brazilian beauty will grow to 40 feet tall and spread from 15 to 30 feet wide. The trees begin to branch profusely when they reach about 6 feet high. I love the fernlike leaves and the 8-inch long clusters of bluish-lavender tubular flowers. The tree blooms abundantly in June and is stunning in any landscape or garden.

 

The trees will tolerate a wide variety of soil types. Water must be consistent but too much will create profuse tender growth and too little will stunt the tree. We purchased two of these gorgeous trees and will plant them at the front of our home, far enough away from each other to allow them to mature without crowding.

 

Although I will miss the elm shade until the jacarandas grow large, I won’t miss the debris of seed pods and small branches easily fractured from the elm. Mature Jacaranda’s in full bloom are a sight to behold and they’re fairly easy to grow.

 

 

*          *          *

 

 

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).

 

Enter the Goodreads Giveaway–September 29 to October 6–for a chance to win a signed copy of a first-edition hardcover of The Murder of a Queen Bee. Three lucky winners will be chosen.

 

 

These novels are chocked full of recipes, farming tips, and sayings as well as a charming cozy mystery.

 

 

 

The books 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

 

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.

 

 

 

 

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

See, http://tinyurl.com/h4kou4g

 

Release date is THIS WEEK–September 27. This book, the second cozy mystery in the Henny Penny Farmette series, is garnering great reviews on Goodreads.com.

 

 

It’s available free on Net Galley (netgalley.com) for readers, bloggers, and other professionals who write reviews.

 

 

 

 

 

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With the official start of summer a few days away, I find myself leaving my computer and the scene I’m writing on my third novel to take a break in the garden. Alive with honeybees, bumblebees, butterflies, and hummingbirds, the garden is perfect place for a respite and a cup of tea.

 

 

 

Honeybees love lavender

Honeybees love to forage on all types of blooming lavender.

 

 

Quite like a potager garden that includes flowers, herbs, trees, vegetables, berries, and grapes, mine also includes a patch of corn.

 

 

Climbing roses can be seen growing behind the corn

Climbing Sally Holmes roses with trusses of ivory blooms grow behind the 4-foot-tall corn.

 

 

Embroidered around the edges of the garden, there are climbing roses, fruit trees, and lots of lavender. Along the rows of lavender, there are peach trees with fruit the size of softballs and five pomegranate trees, laden with blooms and new fruit.

 

 

 

Ripe pomegranates have a leathery outer skin, membranes thicker than oranges, but sweet, juicy seeds inside

The pomegranates aren’t quite this large yet, but the trees have so much fruit, they’ll have to be thinned.

 

 

 

As I meander, I discover the trees of red and yellow plums have begun to drop their ripe fruit. I’ve got to make those plums into jelly or jam and ditto on the apricots.

 

 

Ripe apricots can hang on the tree only so long before they drop

Ripe apricots hang on the tree only so long before they drop.

 

 

 

But that work will have to wait until my late afternoon tea break. My novel won’t write itself. Still, the time I spend in the garden revitalizes my spirit and refreshes my brain cells, enabling me to return to the computer and the scene I’m writing with renewed vision and vigor.

 

 

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If you enjoy reading about gardening, keeping bees, raising chickens, and creating delicious recipes, check out my novels from Kensington Publishing.

 

 

First book in Meera Lester's Henny Penny Farmette series of cozy mysteries

First book in Meera Lester’s Henny Penny Farmette series of cozy mysteries

 

 

 

The Henny Penny Farmette series of cozy mysteries are available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Kobo Books, Walmart, and other online and traditional bookstores everywhere. Available in hardcover, Kindle, and mass market paperback formats.

 

 

 

Novel #2 in the Henny Penny Farmette series, available Oct. 1, 2016

Novel #2 in the Henny Penny Farmette series, available Oct. 1, 2016

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Celebrating the Season of Apples

Author: Meera, October 27, 2015

It’s that time of year when the scents of cinnamon and apple potpourri mingle with hot mulled cider. Thank you, Johnny Appleseed.

 

Or should I say, thank you, John Chapman (1174-1845). Born in Leominster, Massachusetts, Chapman planted apple orchards on lands in the northeastern and mid-western parts of the United States, returning after several years to sell those orchards after they were producing.

 

He also gave away many trees and seeds. But he didn’t believe in grafting, and the trees he planted bore apples more suited to cider. See, http://www.smithsonianmag.com/arts-culture/real-johnny-appleseed-brought-applesand-booze-american-frontier-180953263/?no-ist

 

 

It was John Chapman’s father Nathaniel–a farmer–who encouraged his son to become an orchardist.  John planted more than a few orchards around the Midwest on lands he bought, owned, and sold. His life gave rise to the folk tradition of Johnny Appleseed. Today, there are many festivals that honor his life and work as well as a U. S. postage stamp.

 

 

 

Cox orange pippin apples in a two-year-old tree

Cox orange pippin apple on a two-year-old tree

 

 

 

Today, you don’t need a lot of land to grow an apple tree or two. Even a small piece of land can accommodate the fruit tree, thanks to the availability of dwarf and semi-dwarf varietals. Apartment dwellers and people who have limited space can even espalier an apple tree against a wall.

 

On the Henny Penny Farmette, we are growing the thin-skinned Cox Orange Pippin dessert apple, among others. This late-season varietal was first grown in 1825 in Colnbrook in Buckinghamshire, England. The flesh is orangey-red and the flavor is sweet and nutty. These apples can be eaten fresh, used in recipes, or made into cider.

 

If you have some cider on hand and would like to create the mulled apple cider flavor,  add a couple of cinnamon sticks, a teaspoon each of whole cloves and allspice with a half-gallon of cider and heat in a saucepan. Add a little orange juice or some slices of orange. After simmering for 8 to 10 minutes, strain the mulled cider into mugs. Consider making a batch of farmhouse doughnuts to accompany the cider.

 

FARMHOUSE DOUGHNUTS

 

Ingredients:

 

1 pkg. yeast

 

1 cup lukewarm milk

 

1/2 teaspoon salt

 

31/2 cups flour

 

1/4 cup canola oil, plus oil for frying

 

1 cup brown sugar

 

2 eggs, well beaten

 

3/4 teaspoon nutmeg

 

 

Directions:

 

Mix together the yeast and milk in a small bowl.

 

Combine flour with salt in a large bowl.

 

Add the yeast and milk to the flour and salt mixture and beat well.

 

Let the mixture rise for one-half hour.

 

Add all the other ingredients and beat well again.

 

Let rise for one hour.

 

Punch down the dough. If it appears too soft to roll out, add more flour.

 

Turn the dough out onto a well-floured board and let the dough rest for ten minutes.

 

Divide the dough in half. Roll one section of dough out to 1/2 inch thickness and cut with a doughnut cutter. Repeat the process for the other half of the dough.

 

Let the doughnuts rise for about an hour; fry in oil at 360 degrees Fahrenheit. When the doughnut has turned brown, flip over. Take care not to burn.

 

Remove from doughnuts from hot oil and drain on paper towels.

 

Place doughnuts in a bag with granulated sugar and shake to coat. Makes approximately two dozen doughnuts and holes.

 

 

 

 

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The weather cooperated, so we gathered for snacks in the garden

The backyard and farmhouse patio bathed in morning sunlight

 

 

Each day on my farmette starts with chores involving plants and animals . . . and writing. The latter might seem a bit strange until you understand that my farmette–with its organic heirloom vegetables, eggs, and honey–has evolved into a brand that includes my forthcoming Henny Penny Farmette novels. It’s business. I have to write three novels in three years. I’ve already written two.

 

 

Like any business that involves regular tasks for keeping the enterprise thriving, my farmette novels require a daily commitment to writing. Excellence in my writing endeavors is just as important to me as the quality of my Henny Penny Farmette jams, honey, eggs, and this blog.

 

 

 

Chickens are part of the farmette landscape

Chickens are an integral part of the farmette landscape

 

 

I rise early,  at 4:00 AM, to get a jump on my day. The roosters start crowing around that hour, but the sleepy hens remain on the roost until daylight. I like to stroll outside, see the edges of the black sky turning lighter at the eastern horizon, observe the position of the moon and stars, feel the cool predawn air on my face, and notice the silent vapor of fog receding like gray shroud being tugged upon.

 

 

I enjoy the scent of pine and orange blossoms (when the trees are in bloom), and take note of the occasional spritzing of a skunk or cat marking its territory while out prowling. These observations become notes in my journal.

 

 

 

At bedtime and when I awaken during the night, I practice yoga nidra, a state of deep relaxation and lucid dreaming. Often, though, the lucidity may be nudged aside as sleep and dreams in which I am not aware of my physical environment take over. Still, I sometimes work through problems in my life or my stories and awaken with a solution . . . sometimes, but not always.

 

 

 

A pretty corner of the garden on the farmette

A pretty corner of the garden on the farmette

 

 

During the morning hours before sunrise, following a good night’s sleep, I feel sharpest and most in tune with nature and my deepest, inner Self.  One of my favorite writers John O’Donohue observed the profound and numinous presence of nature and wrote in his book Anam Cara:  “Landscape is not all external, some has crept inside the soul. Human presence is infused with landscape.”

 

 

The Henny Penny Farmette landscape has echoes from the past in it. I’ve re-created my grandmother’s farm garden where I spent happy hours of my childhood. But also, I’ve got my own personal stamp on this landscape. It’s a lot of work, but I embrace the daily chores and the discipline needed to keep the farmette and a book series going. It’s an ongoing journey to a new horizon.

 

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Creating Sacred Space in Tandem with Nature

Author: Meera, June 4, 2014

 

 

Nature provides most of the elements of sacred space; you can add the art

Nature provides most of the elements of sacred space, but feel free to add some garden/yard art

 

One of the first things I did after buying the farmette was to create a space to sit, rest, pray, and dream. Basically what I had to work with was an empty field with a tiny farmhouse in the middle. The house was a construction zone–not quiet and peaceful or  nourishing to the spirit–so I need to create an outdoor sacred place for my sanity.

 

On the north/cool side of the house, my husband and I reinforced the fence and then planted some climbing roses, Japanese maples, hydrangeas, calla lilies, and irises. To anchor the space, we added a Cox Orange Pippin apple (a sweet dessert apple first grown at Colnbrook, Buckinghamshire, England, 1825).

 

Later, when I found the meditation mask, I decided to hang it on the fence, moving in a bench opposite (now my favorite place to read). A brick walkway leads to an arch that supports two Cecile Brunner climbing roses, opulently covered in tiny pink rosettes each spring. A blue reflecting ball offers a soft splash of cool color against the hydrangea pink florets. Finally, we tucked in blue-blooming dwarf agapanthus (Peter Pan) and fuchsia geraniums to give the space lushness and some cool, refreshing color.

 

There are many such places on our property that I’ve claimed as sacred space, but this one is my favorite. We redid the windows on the house’s north side so that the largest one looks out from our dining/living room onto this garden space. A fountain with soft gurgling water adds to the tranquility.

 

Besides art and possibly a water feature for your sacred space, you’ll want to think about the plants (tall, mid-size, and small), herbs, trees, climbing vines, and roses. I chose plants that I associate with my grandmother’s garden and the various gardens my mother created.

 

You don’t need a farmette to create sacred space. Rock gardens and arid landscapes, rooftop gardens, and cityscape corners and alleyways can be transformed as well. Work with the natural setting around you. Just stay in tune with what speaks to your spirit, gives ease to your heart, and restores peace to your mind as you create your sacred space.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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