JANUARY: It's spring here in California, go figure. I mean a full blaze SPRING. Days are sunny, temps in the 80's. My early Nectarine is covered with blooms, daffodils and narcissus are everywhere, in full flower. I'm out there in the bright winter sunlight, balmy day, tearing the dead morninglory  vines off plants and bushes and trees that fully expected a freeze and didn't get one.

You know that California lilac thing called Butterfly Bush? Or Buddleia? (We can't grow lilacs here but the purple bush Buddleia is alive, green, not blooming but bushy and green). In the rest of country it freezes dead. BUT it is shrouded in dead morninglory vines cuz glories are from Mexico and they do dry up to the root even in slightly cold weather. My glories go really high in summer, really wide so they shroud things. To pull the shroud off in late winter, early spring is like shearing a sheep of brown stringy fur. You need scissors. And as I pull them off, I build piles of shorn wool and leave them right there to compost. Cover them with a little dirt. I find it's easier to have ten small compost piles in random corners than one big one. CARRYING WISE anyway.

And as I'm working, I'm perceiving the little tricks that make it possible for an aging, stiff, chaotic minded woman to make a dent in a chaotic garden. Cuz if I couldn't swim with and deal with the chaos it would blow my circuits bigtime.

ONE trick IS carry all the different hand tools in something. I use a garden flat. Cuz I got tired of running to where I left the scissors or left the trowel or left the stakes for edging and the hammer to pound it. The worst part of not finding it is wondering where I was when I last saw it! So a box is mandatory!

Why a hammer? Cuz I HAMMER stakes on OUTER side of my bed-edging when I garden as I love using raised beds. My edging is made of junk lumber, old fencing planks, carpenter rejects, bricks, stones, broken cement all of which falls down as possums run around at night eating snails and TomCats disturb the edges (I find a trail of fur wads & hunks and know it's cats.) My edging is built of lumber left in alleys. I drive thru my barrio to the market, see lumber and brake. It gets  thrown in the car trunk, brought home. Lay on side. a couple of branches shaped into stakes to spike them upright in place. SOIL on other side to keep them from falling, fill it with soil. My garden is narrow paths and big beds, edged in lumberon four sides. Like a cake pan. Maybe 8" of lifted bed. Sometimes a foot and a half! No big thing. Enough so that no one walks on the bed, no one would think to. Plants appreciate that. So hammer. SO all tools together in flat while I work my way thru the beds is trouble preventing.

THEN I discovered something new about SNAIL patrol today. EVERY old piece of fallen edging in the yard appears to be a snail winter lodging, or even slug hotel. If the wood is not firmly stuck and firmly filled
with soil, --if there's a lee side with a crevice ---those snails find it. They dive in saying "ROOM AT THE HILTON!" Snails sleep in winter, sleep of the dead, too. STUCK to the wood. Hundreds. ZZZONING AWAY, gummed to the wood. Sure makes it easy to find them and toss them across the fence into the garden of the four time widow who kept turning my cats into the POUND year after year!

Another thought having a neighbor you loathe has one terrific advantage. SNAILS. HAVING SNAILS has one terrific advantage. Getting back at NEIGHBORS YOU HATE. PING! They go shooting thru the air. Pong PONG goes a pair. SLING goes seven who did a stick-to-each-other-in-a-snail-conga-line type of winter, hibernating cozy arrangement. My pitching arm is fantastic. I LOATHE my neighbor. Not only did she call animal reg and turn my darling cats in, she had her gardener tear down my baby peach tree on my curb strip as she said she couldn't back out of her driveway with the two foot tree there. She called SANITATION and turned my front yard, driveway strip compost pile in. SHe called the fire department and said there were dry branches. She poured bleach on my morninglory hedge. When I queried her about her vengeful nature she sneered, 'you're a pro-tem renter. I'm a property owner.' Hey at 89 years of age, she's renting pro-tem a lot more than I am. I should have told her that. What I did tell her was "lady, you turned my cats into the pound, they will gas them, kill them all. SO? She sneered. Good riddance. I said "they are my babies. The karma for what you did to my babies is that your own children will..... I looked at her with immense sadness while I made a horrific gesture with my hands. I guess THAT really GOT to her. The pound was called off.  I knew her short hairs. She only thought she knew mine.

So I dose her with my snails. And in a renewed frenzy of finding the little guys, I learned their peculiarities. They dwell in any edging that's loose. Makes it real easy to find them and move them to eat a garden that's not mine. God really knew their secret use.  Not Escargot. BAD NEIGHBOR KARMA.

Another thing I discovered pulling the winter chaos down is that every dead tree and bush is mostly alive on the bottom but the top has dead sticks but highly useful sticks. You snap them off, and wherever you plant lettuce seeds, which we can do now in L.A., you create sticks like a palisade...not only around the bed, but in it, so the cats won't go near that bed. So I noticed that the things we hate have grand use. Now if I could only figure a use for that neighbor lady.

FEBRUARY- Damnit! We had a windy freeze in late January and the thousands of small nectarines  ON A SUPER EARLY NECTARINE....disappeared. Not on the LATE nectarine cuz they weren't blooming yet. Now I know, here in LA, buy late!  Maybe a dozen left on the whole tree. BUMMER! Oh well, they are going to be huge and sweet. Nectarines in the supermarket are nothing like the ones you get fully ripe on your own tree.  NOT EVEN!  In California, the snails come out in February. They climb everything tasting, chewing. I go out at night with a flashlight, bag them up, carry them away. If I don't do this religiously, they can really damage a yard.
They make inroads. So I make OUTROADS and put them on it! They love artichokes and swiss chard the most. Makes it easy to find them!

The rains of February have pounded the soil into a kind of cement hardness. The self sown chicory from last year is sprouting everywhere, very invasive. But I let it live because a,) I don't have to buy salad, baby chicory is darn tasty. and b.) the fabulous lettuce seeds that Santa Fe hippie farmer sent me never sprouted. He tends to keep things for years. Too much pot makes you unaware of time or they could have baked in his shack and summer heat left them unviable. So I let the chicory go crazy. Tender leaves are edible in salad. Greener leaves cook up with the cat meat.

To remedy the hardpan I may have to go to my compost pile, shovel it into a black flat, then sift out a fine humus on to my hard soil. The alternative is to take a fork and break the cement skin up. Soil needs amending. Should I spend ten dollars on a big bag of peat at Home Depot? l0 square feet I think it is? Dig it into a hundred square feet, probably well worth it. (Note. I solved the problem for free. Cat litter, the old-fashioned kind. Turds go into trash barrel but the litter and urine went into the garden. Soil got real fluffy from it!)

MARCH-Hyacinths are returning, bringing their children with them. Daffodils and Narcissis do that too. And Freesias are all blooming. I know if you leave a Freesia bulb alone for a few years it turns into a MOUND of thousands of blooms. But In California, TULIPS not only do not come back with children, they themselves do not come back.  That's one sad thing. The other is that we have no real, fragrant lilacs.

APRIL - Time to Plant the GRAPE VINES. Get them online, from grape supplier, or at HOME DEPOT. They want to be where there's sun all day long.

MAY - MAY TO DECEMBER is SNAIL DETAIL. People ask me for the trick of not having snails. I say 'a flashlight and a plastic bag and a neighbor you hate. When you've got a few pounds of these miserable bugs, dump them over the wall into the garden of someone who hates gardening, whose house is a mess, overgrown, or if you're lucky like me, having a neighbor who pours bleach straight out of the bottle onto my morninglory hedges, to kill them and calls the pound on my cats, throw the snails in HER yard! HEHEHE! Snails decimate a garden, it's incumbant upon you to pick them up and dispose of them. No way out of that. Well, one. Start leaving food in the same spot for the possums. Every possum in the neighborhood will come by. When food's gone, they'll plunder your entire garden of snails. EVERY SINGLE ONE. It's amazing. And they find 90% of the slugs. NIGHTIME MARSUPIALS had a reason for existing! When AFRICAN BULBS stop blooming, you can lift, separate, dry for entire summer, plant again in September, Gladiolas, crocosimia. I dry them well, then put in an airy basket under garden table in cool shade. Actually I keep potatos there too. Same type, airy holed-container. Irish potatoes must be kept cold, airy. Shady Dark.

JUNE-  There is one chore that is req'd in this work for maybe 4 solid months. And the tool to do it does not exist in the marketplace. Garden work in summer entails or should involve becoming a MULCHER VULTURE. That's when you make great use of dead stuff, right? Like a vulture does. All our gardens are full of dead , brown, toasted leaves right now. To do the right thing with it, we must do what mother nature tries to do, we must help her to collect it into a little bundle on top of the soil, around the remains of our suntoasted plants, which I do. On a 'third base' kind of a mat, on my knees, I lift the rich soil in the pathway on to beds TO TOP OFF the toasted 'greenery.' Most gardenrs have a bed, either raised or at least separate from the path. My edges are raised made of DRY STACK CONCRETE or old lumber. I lift all the eroded soil that has run down into the path onto that DEAD stuff. and WET IT. WIthin days, the plants that are toasted, gone to seed, revive. And they  live until the freeze now. SUMMER didn't kill them as I MULCHED. See, that is good black soil on your path as all your top Soil erodes down the lumber edging into your paths. It's inevitable and what's more it's the blackest top soil, it's great stuff.. So lay that slimey muck or black gold on all the dead plants. BEFORE YOU START, maybe hose the path well, really WET IT, so it's not cement-y. That way, the path turns pliable. Kneel on a mat, as ground is hard and now it's wet and slimey. Use a flat, short handled shovel tool to lift it the way you'd lift lasagna out of a baking dish. Actually no TOOL like what is required exists in the marketplace ergo you could make a mint with a MULCHER VULTURE, a flat shovel same size as a trowel, same weight but flat shovel blade at least 8" broad. I'd market it with this BIG VULTURE smiling on the plastic pckg which is flat and wide, about the size of a kid's school notebook, as I'd also include a KNEE MAT in the pckg. Gloves maybe.  NOW the user will lift soil up on to the raised bed with no more trouble than lifting a serving of lasagna. As soon as heat starts, annuals, spring blooms get real dazed and brownish. They are not dead ---those spring plants, all brown or greenish brown can perhaps be revived by mulching. Lay soil AROUND them if they have life. If not, bury them and include the weeds by pulling them out, laying in the path of the mulch, maybe upside down then MULCH  that dead greenery. ALL SUMMER long be a MULCHER VULTURE. Your gardens will start to rebloom immediately. My spring blooming plants come back and turn into biennials or perennials! Wear knickers you don't care about as you'll never get mud stains out of the knees if you aren't using a mat.

JULY- Continue MULCHER VULTURE-ING. Prune fruit trees after the fruit falls off, just to shape the tree.

AUGUST-  As soon as the major heat stops, plant your PEAS, cold season vegies, cabbage and the like, chard. Also in California, we can plant all WINTER BLOOMING ANNUAL FLOWERS.  You may get it wrong. Sun may return and scorch the babies, but give it a try. If you get it right, vines will be shoulder high by late August.

SEPTEMBER - The month when we plant Spring's biennial flowers (as seeds), caring for  them carefully on the southern side of the house, or in a greenhouse. Many of our Spring and  Summer bloomers like pansies and snaps require a longer season to get up and blooming. Plant now, if no heat spells, and they live all winter as low greenery and then BLOOM IN SPRING. The list is on back of every seed package. You see where it sez SOUTHERN ZONES 9 and 10, plant in SEPT? It's those guys!......... Broccoli really does better grown as a biennial, not annual.

OCTOBER - As leaves start to fall, Path clean up is done by "knee walking" your way along every path in the garden. You push a bath mat or carpet square with you so your knees don't get bruised. You carry scissors, a trowel, a hammer, some stakes and have wood edging pieces nearby. You are cleaning your paths of debris, cutting overgrown vines, ivies & lifting the debris onto the bed to compost. Unless you feel it might root, then you have to take a plastic container. You gather all the compost that has formed on top of the pathway, lifting it onto the bed to compost your debris. If bed has lost edging pieces you clean out the area, set a board on its side, hammer stakes in.

I've been feeding the Possums that settled here. They live in the garage right behind my head when I sleep. On the other side of the wall. I can hear them turning over and sighing, scratching, squeaking, fighting, playing. One night they pushed a box off a shelf, crashing china to the floor. At night the mother, father and two children make a l00 foot walk to the woodpile which has a hollowed out area in the middle, where they find food I leave them: They have their own dishes full of cut up apples, every single bone out of a baked chicken which they demolish with their little teeth;  basmati rice with all the juices, gravy and fats of the chicken --a different dish every night. If there's ever a world war, I'll have resident livestock. By the way, there isn't a single snail left on the property, not a one. I know it was this little group. Imagine critters so hungry they will eat raw snails, no wonder they find my cooking so good..

Her cooking is passable. Well, maybe slightly better than that.
But Let's see if next year she can handle EIGHT mouths to feed!

NOVEMBER - Continue knee walking. You are starting to get nippy nights and morninglory will not bloom after  a freeze, so you can tear down the vines clenching at your trees.

DECEMBER- Cut poles for peas, beans, and other climbers now. Peel off the bark and  set them in a dry area until they are needed.  Keep this in mind while pruning: Fruit usually grows on horizontal branches, rather than the vertical ones. Vertical branches can be trained  to become horizontal by weighting them down for a few weeks. Old shoes? Bricks? Wind chimes?


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