Redbuds, Seeds, and Propagating: FIVE EASY STEPS

For an even quicker look, here’s a shout out to the website that taught me all about propagating redbud trees by seed: https://aggie-horticulture.tamu.edu/newsletters/hortupdate/2010/jun/tree_seeds.html

I’ve noticed several people on a Facebook group I’m part of –

Ugh, this is like those recipe pages where people write a freaking novel about why they made the dish they made before they paste the recipe card square and fuck off. So I’m just gonna get to the point…WITH PICTURES!

Step ONE: collect pods! Collect the pods in autumn when they turn brown and crispy. I always collect what I can from my height and leave the rest for the critters. After all, one of the many great things about redbuds is that they feed our wild seed-eaters in the winter when other food is scarce. This technique is called responsible foraging!

Step TWO: Pop the seeds out of the pods! Sometimes you’ll be lucky and there will be a couple of seeds in a pod. Sometimes there won’t be a single fucking one! But that’s nature for you.

Step THREE: scarify the seeds! Scarifying the seeds allows moisture to enter the thick husk and hydrate the seed meat itself. You can do this after the cold period (called stratifying, more info to come) with a knife by nicking the husk gently, or with sandpaper by scraping the husk gently. OR, if you’re A PYRO LIKE ME, you can dump the seeds in just-boiling water for about a minute BEFORE the cold period (“stratifying“). I prefer this method because there is heat involved and, as mentioned, I’m a bit of a pyro, AND ALSO BECAUSE this allows you to immediately determine which seeds are viable and which ones aren’t. Seeds that FLOAT are not viable and aren’t worth your time nurturing. Seeds that SINK are viable and should germinate. After a minute in the recently-boiling water I scoop the non-viable seeds out with a spoon and drain the water from the rest in a fine colander.

(PS, I always thought colander had two L’s, but Spellcheck just informed me it sure fucking doesn’t, so we’ve both learned something today.)

Step FOUR: stratify the seeds! Get a plastic baggie or other airtight container. Dump the seeds in the baggie. Dampen your fingers under the faucet and flick a sprinkle or so of water in the baggie. Seal that fucker and toss it in your fridge and FORGET ABOUT IT until you need that sausage that you’ve been saving for a stew. Check to make sure there’s a smidgen of moisture in the baggie, and if there isn’t then repeat the bit with the fingers and the faucet, and FORGET ABOUT IT AGAIN. See, redbud seeds need a period roughly 3 months long of cold temperature (NOT FREEZING, we’re talking fridge temps not freezer temps) to properly germinate.


4A: KEY NOTES ABOUT THE BAGGIE: So listen, don’t be an idiot like me the first time I did this. Grab a Sharpie or other permanent soft-tipped marker and notate the date that you fridged the seeds and the species of tree they are on your baggie. This way you won’t come across a long-forgotten baggie in the back of your fridge years from now and wonder what the fuck these seeds are. Maybe they’ll still germinate. If they’re like my pumpkin seeds that I did this to, maybe they will. But maybe they won’t. Practice good propagation and label your baggies. Luckily redbud seeds are pretty unique-looking.

Step FIVE: sow your seeds! When the last frost has passed and your seeds have been in the fridge for at least 3 months (90 days minimum, don’t fuck around with this part), sow your seeds in individual containers of soil. You can also sow them straight into the ground, but in my zone (8A) we sometimes get a random frost that forgot it was supposed to be springtime. Having my treelings in containers enables me to bring them indoors if I need to protect them from a random frost. A cautionary note with REDBUDS: These trees develop a long taproot pretty quickly, so if you sow them in containers plan to start them in a 1 gallon size and pot up within the first growing season. I don’t have a picture for this step because I didn’t take any last year and obviously I can’t sow my seeds yet as it’s Nov 29 and they’re stratifying right now. But I trust my dear readers of horticulture and propagation tips can imagine what seeds in containers of soil look like.

And that’s it! I promise! Follow these steps and in the spring you’ll have oodles of redbud treelings in pots! For really realz! And if this somehow doesn’t work for you, please comment below so we can figure it out together.

Fall Garden

A quick word: I’m in plant hardiness zone 8A. If you’re in a colder climate, this post may not apply to you. If you’re in a warmer climate, this post probably does. If you have no clue what zone you’re in, the USDA provides a nice chart! Check it out at https://planthardiness.ars.usda.gov/
But here’s also a screen print I grabbed on 11/4/21. Those are minimum winter lows on that chart that you’re looking at.

In and around my zone we have a longer growing season. This means I can sow cole crops in the fall like brassicas (broccoli, kale, cauliflower family) with little worry about them surviving the winter. Last year I tried this theory out with kale and it worked WONDERFULLY. After a little frost baby kale leaves are actually sweet! Summer gardening is nice and all, but you have to contend with insects and diseases. In the spring, fall and winter these concerns are limited. I’ve become quite a fan of leaving the summer for the development of squashes and root vegetables, and doing most of my “at-risk” gardening in the fall, spring or winter.

Right now, for example, my blueberry plants are changing into their autumn foliage in a magnificent blaze of color across the garden.

My kale is a successful experiment this year. I say that because last year (2020) I bought a seed packet for 2020 use. I sowed about half of it and refrigerated the rest. This year I sowed the rest of the 2020 seeds and they are coming in quite nicely.

I pruned my container-grown mint pretty heavily this past summer (2021, like probably late September) and it LOVED the abuse and has come around hard for a second round. Fucking mint, y’all. Beat it up, IT LIKES IT.

And the bell peppers. These guys did HORRIBLY in the summer and went to mold, weirdly enough. But this fall? Right now on November 4? FRUITS!!!!

They’re actually going red faster than they did during the summer months. I surmise that bell pepper plants prefer cooler temps in the 60 degree range for ripening. Further experimenting shall be performed next spring! I plan to start these early next year, like late January indoors for seed germination. I’ll transplant outdoors after the last frost and see how they do. I suspect they don’t like our warmer summer here in Zone 8A but will enjoy the transition seasons.

What’s your garden look like right now? Share in the comments below!

Hike Like a Girl: Part Five: TREKKIN’ POLES

Spelled how the kuhl kids do it. Pf, whatever, nobody pronounces the “g” anyway. Nobody says “trekking poles”; it’s always “trekkin’ poles”. The apostrophe takes the place of the letter not said. Deal with it.

Oh, hi, didn’t see you there! So this one WAS gonna be called Part Five: Accessories and I WAS gonna ramble about all the bits and bobs I bring or don’t bring hiking. But, honestly, short of the obvious like a stove and water filter, etc, which will get their own parts in the next installment or so, THE MOST CRITICAL EXTRA THING TO BRING HIKING OR BACKPACKING IS A PAIR OF TREKKIN’ POLES. A properly selected pair of trekkin’ poles will save your knees, your ankles, your back, and potentially your life.

I’M NOT FUCKING KIDDING AROUND.

I can’t tell you how many times my trekkin’ poles have saved me from falling and breaking a limb or dying. They’re game changers. They give you four operational legs rather than two, and do you see ANY two-legged creatures besides dumb humans gamboling around the wilderness? NO. Because four legs are absolutely better than two. Well-applied trekkin’ poles will save your ass from getting wet while crossing a stream; they’ll save your ankle from getting twisted while scrambling a particularly rocky trail; and they’ll save your knees from exploding during a steep decline.

You think I’m exaggerating? I’m not. Anyone that has walked in the wilds with additional weight on them (ie a pack of any weight really) will tell you that you want a walking stick or two, and the better option is a pair of trekkin’ poles. Poles are lighter than sticks, better designed in the grip, easier to use, and way more durable.

I love mine so much I did a fucking photoshoot for them. Here they are!

I have the Black Diamond model with the cork ergonomic grips and the carbon fiber lower bits. I got these ages ago from a retailer that doesn’t exist anymore, much like most of my major gear assortment, and honestly Black Diamond probably doesn’t make the exact model anymore just like Osprey doesn’t make my pack model anymore but still makes a 70L womens pack in green. You know. The basics are still there in the catalog: they just changed the names.

The important keywords to remember here are: CORK, ERGONOMIC grips, and CARBON FIBER lower bits. Cork is absorbent, so your hands don’t get all sweaty! YAAAY! “Ergonomic” means that they’re angled a smidge instead of being straight up and down, and HOLY SHIT does that take all the stress of impact off your wrists. It’s amazing. Pay more for it, it’s worth it. Carbon fiber is important because it’s a sturdy material that is lighter weight than steel and will still do the job.

There are a few key points to make regarding the proper fitting and use of trekkin’ poles. When standing still with your pole planted next to you, your elbow should be at a 90 degree angle and your wrist should be straight. Like this:

See that ergonomic angle? See how my hand fits perfectly into it and doesn’t try to bend the pole to accommodate? You want all these things.

You should also note how the handle loop is positioned around my wrist. My partner is a purist and cuts all the tags off his clothing to save weight, so he also took the handle loops off his poles. Whatever, it works for him. I keep the loops on because I have carpal tunnel syndrome and will occasionally, COMPLETELY BY RANDOM, lose all grip in either of my hands. THIS IS BAD if you’re trying to hold on to stuff like trekkin’ poles! The loops have saved my grip multiple times when a snag in a rock or a nerve flare up would otherwise leave that pole behind.

To correctly use the handle loop, insert your hand from below the loop and then grab the handle. This will place the curved end over your wrist with the collected ends that connect to the handle below your wrist (and often, in your palm when you hold the pole.) Take note this is the LEFT pole in my LEFT hand. Your set of trekkin’ poles should have a left and a right pole, for reasons I’m not sure of, but it’s definitely important and you’ll notice once you start walking if the wrong pole is in the wrong hand.

If you have the loop worn correctly, you should be able to let go of the pole and not drop it! WEEE!

So that’s fitting and measuring done. There’s just one more tip on trekkin’ pole use: THESE ARE NOT FOR POLE VAULTING. These are designed for tapping along rocks and roots and such to ensure you remain upright with all of whatever you’ve got in your pack. Aluminum poles CAN break if you try to use them for pole vaulting. Steel poles CAN break if you try to use them for pole vaulting. And then where are you? You’re fucked, that’s where you are.

Fucked.

Do you have a favorite model of trekkin’ poles? Geek out with me in the comments below!

Using the Harvest

So for me, I enjoy the growing part of gardening fine enough. But the most exciting bits are the beginning and the end: germination and harvest. And even more rewarding is being able to use what you’ve grown from seed. This year I grew (among other things) onions for the first time. I’m happy to report that the early harvest I took of the green onions has stored well in the freezer and I used it and our carrots (freshly harvested) in a bison stew.

I also harvested some larger onions later and cured them in the fridge. Today I opened the paper bag to discover that not a single one had rotted. More, they’re potent and delicious. I’m using the fresh ones in a bison skillet tonight. (I really prefer bison over beef.)

Do you grow vegetables in your garden? What do you use them in? Do you store them or use them fresh? I’d love to hear your experience! For me, I’m excited to dig into our acorn squash which should be almost done curing in the fridge.

Gardening for the Earth

…literally! If you have a garden in the ground or in raised beds you should consider sowing a restorative ground cover or layering the surface with thick mulch for the seasons in which your garden is dormant. For example, this year I grew acorn squash, which choked out the turf over which the vines grew. This was actually a desired effect so that I had less grass to mow. Now that the harvest is complete and the vines removed to the compost pile, there are bare patches of earth in my yard.

Bare patches of earth are bad for the microbiome in the soil and are dead zones for the precipitation cycle. They can also allow for a greater chance of disease or pests when it comes time to sow next year’s garden. Plus they’re ugly! In order to restore the depleted soil and maintain a healthy microbiome, you can apply a thick layer of mulch or, my preference, plant a beneficial cover crop.

I did the latter, and the cover crop I chose is Dutch mini white clover. Clover fixes nitrogen in the soil, which is a nutrient that squash (and all plants) consume a ton of while they’re growing. I chose the engineered “mini” clover because it will never grow tall enough to want mowing, and if you’ve noticed there’s a trend in my gardening style which is to eventually never need to mow my yard ever again.

My clover has started to germinate and it is developing very well!

I made a mistake when sowing and watered before I had pressed the seeds into the soil. This caused some of them to wash off the big bare patch of hard, dry earth and collect at the edge of the turf. But that’s okay! That just means I get to sow more clover seed!

You can leave your cover crop for just the winter if you want and then dig or till it into the soil when you plant. Gardens love clover though! It helps to prevent the soil from drying out between your other plants, and like I mentioned it fixes nitrogen. This means it draws nitrogen from the air and the minerals of the earth and makes it available for consumption in the soil. All plants need nitrogen but few fix it, which makes clover extra special. Next time you see some clover in your yard, thank it!

CES Jr Fall 2021 Update

So you know the repotting was a success. And if you don’t, there’s a post a month or so ago about that; scroll for it!

So you know my CES Jr (or Camellia effing sinensis II) had tons of flower buds on it.

But you haven’t seen the results yet! And they’re delightful, wondrous results of big, clunky, nonscented, messy flowers that are truly beautiful to me.

They look like sunny-side-up eggs!

Fredericksburg Independent Book Festival! Oct 2!

Hello, dear readers! I posted about this upcoming book festival a month or so back, but I figured I’d just throw a line out there to remind y’all and maybe catch a bite or two. I’m vending at the Fredericksburg Independent Book Festival in VA on Oct 2, 10-4! Here’s a link to their page: https://fredbookfest.com/

AND HERE IS A LINK TO THE MAP!!! https://fredbookfest.com/map/?fbclid=IwAR3-4RGlt-2Yy0o4eRaIrdSZDmJ9hSE4czU_dNUdfKXXo1jAkXSs2nsJ5zM I’m booth I2! Right in the middle of the actioooonnnn!

Please come visit and say hi and maybe buy a book or two so that my 3 hour journey at 5 AM is freaking worth it! That’s SO EARLY. If you have a book of mine already and you want me to sign it, this is a great, FREE, opportunity for that to happen!

UPDATE: I thought you guys might want to see photos of my booth, so here they are!

Hike Like a Girl: Part Four: Hiking with Dogs

I feel like it’s safe to say that most, if not all, outdoorsy people like dogs and have at least one or know someone that has at least one. If you’ve got a dog or you know a dog, and you’ve ever wanted to take it hiking with you, that’s awesome! Hiking with dogs can be very rewarding. You’ve got guaranteed company, a built-in alarm system, and some enhanced security at the end of that leash. There are sketchy people on the trail, just like in the rest of the world. They’ll probably think twice before they mess with you if you have a dog.

That said, there are many things to take into consideration before just grabbing the leash and putting on your boots. Just like you, dogs need water, snacks, and breaks. They can’t safely go from years of playing fetch in the yard and napping on the couch to walking ten miles. They need to build up their strength, stamina, and flexibility just like us. The difference is that a dog won’t tell you when they’re tired, or hurt. If you’re moving, they’re moving because they want to stay with you.

Here are some tips for a happy hiking experience for both you and your favorite pup! But first, let me introduce you to my trail dogs: Riley and Aggie!

In this picture Riley is the lead dog and Aggie is following with the pack. Riley is my old mutt who I’ve posted about previously in this blog. At the time of this picture, Riley is 11 years old and Aggie is almost 4 years old (3 and 10 months). And this picture demonstrates our first point:

*HIKING WITH MULTIPLE DOGS

At 50 lbs, Riley COULD carry up to 16 lbs of equipment, but he REALLY DOESN’T LIKE TO. I’ve tried the pack on him a few times with all sorts of treats and positive encouragement, and he is NOT A FAN: he gets extremely stressed out and crab walks and shies away from everything. However, he does make a FANTASTIC lead dog. We got Aggie when she was a puppy (10 months old-ish) and Riley was 7 years old. She’s developed into an adult dog by following all of his examples, and she instinctively follows him in our yard, in the house, during neighborhood walks, and on the trail. If you’re hiking with more than one dog, it’s advised to teach them to walk single file so that they don’t take up the whole trail or encroach on passing hikers’ space. Luckily I never had to teach them this because they do it naturally.

*HOW MUCH SHOULD THEY CARRY

With any pack, it’s generally agreed that a dog can carry up to a third of its body weight. Aggie weighs 62 lbs, and can thus carry up to 20 lbs of equipment. When you’re introducing your dog to hiking with a pack, start with a fraction of that limit and gradually increase it over future trips. You would never load 50 lbs of gear into your pack, hike several miles and expect good results. Same thing for your dog!

The above picture shows my daypack on the left and Aggie’s pack on the right. We’re planning a trip in November that will involve some hiking days, and I haven’t properly backpacked in several years. In the interest of not hurting myself and in continuing Aggie’s training, here’s what I packed for us today:

In my pack I had a 40 oz insulated steel bottle of water, 2 sandbags that weigh 9.85 lbs each, and a pair of 3 lb hand weights (not shown, under the sand bags.) That’s about 28-29 lbs of weight, and reflects what I’ll be carrying during our day hikes in November.

Aggie’s pack for today’s hike included 2 liters of water (1 liter in either saddlebag), the dogs’ steel water bowl (we’ll have a collapsible bowl for the November day hikes), poo bags (LEAVE NO TRACE!!!!), and a baggie of treats. Just like with your pack, do your best to make sure the saddlebags are equally weighted otherwise the pack will not sit correctly on the dog. This could lead to injuries.

*MAKE SURE THE PACK FITS CORRECTLY

Hopefully your outfitter made you bring your dog in to the shop to be measured and to try on the pack before purchase. Hopefully you measured correctly when you purchased the pack online. Hopefully you tried the pack on your dog AT HOME and adjusted the fit AT HOME BEFORE YOU WENT TO THE TRAIL.

O.o (DO THOSE THINGS.)

The harness structure of the pack should fit snugly on your dog without cutting into their circulation or prohibiting natural movements AND should not shift around excessively when weighted. The pack should have a belly strap, a chest (or girth) strap, and a padded neck strap. If it doesn’t, return the pack and get you one that has all three. Each of these should be adjustable so that you can properly fit the pack to your dog. Aggie models a proper fit below:

The weight in your dog’s pack should be 90% carried over the shoulders. If this is not the case, adjust the pack forward or back along the dog until it is the case, and adjust your straps accordingly. If the straps will not allow for this position, return the pack and get a different one. EVERY DOG IS A DIFFERENT SHAPE. Every dog measures differently. Pack brands do their best to construct products that work universally, but you as the owner MUST do your part to make sure the pack fits properly. If it doesn’t, you can injure your dog, and it won’t be the pack company’s fault.

As I mentioned above, a properly fitted pack will not hinder your dog’s natural movements. They should be able to stand, turn, walk, trot, jump, duck, and lie down as if the pack isn’t even there. Thanks for modeling, Aggie!

*SOME GENERAL TRAIL RULES FOR DOGS TO FOLLOW

Do not encroach on passing hikers’ space. Teach your dog to go to the side (mine know “Left Side” and “Right Side” as commands and will go to the indicated side of the trail/obstacle/tree/whatever when told) or to sit and politely let people pass. It is NOT okay for your dog to lunge at people or other dogs. NOT ALL HIKERS LIKE DOGS. Be respectful of your fellow people, and your dog’s fellow dogs because not all dogs like other dogs in their faces. It’s true.

Leave no trace. Always pick up your dog’s poo in a baggie and dispose of this baggie when you come across a trash can. Even the backwoods has trash cans if you’re in a state or national park. I promise. They’re usually near shelters or bath houses on the main trails. Hold onto that baggie in a pouch or tied to the leash or wherever until you get to a trash can. DO NOT leave the baggie on the trail.

Keep your dog on a leash. I know everybody wants to feel that connection to THE WILD THOUGH and have your dog rambling along with you off leash. But, as above, not all hikers and dogs like other dogs. I can’t tell you how many dogs I’ve come across on trails that are bounding around off leash and the owner is shouting “It’s okay, they’re friendly!” as their dog comes charging up to my dog. My dogs are also friendly. But my old dog Riley has been attacked by smaller dogs before and gets skittish, and my rottie Aggie is very protective of both me and Riley and doesn’t take kindly to some stranger in her face. She won’t start a fight, but you know damn well she’ll finish one if that “friendly” dog doesn’t like her suspicious side-eye. For your dogs’ safety and other dogs’ safety, keep your dog on a freaking leash.

And always, ALWAYS, whenever you train your dog in a new behavior (and both hiking with you and carrying a pack count as new behaviors) REWARD YOUR DOG!!!

Hiking with your dog should be an enjoyable experience for both of you. If that means they can carry a pack, great because that means YOU don’t have to carry their food, water, and stuff! (Although you better make sure you’re carrying the stuff that exceeds that 1/3 body weight ratio.) If they aren’t comfortable carrying a pack, then you’d better be prepared to carry their necessities along with yours. IF YOU AREN’T, then don’t bring your dog hiking. Really.

Feel free to post pics of your hiking dog in the comments below! For reference, Aggie’s pack is the Palisades Pack from Ruffwear, and Riley’s harness is the Front Range Harness, also from Ruffwear! They’re a brilliant dog gear company and I highly recommend them.

CES Jr Update: She’s FLOWERING!

And it’s looking like the best flowering season she’s had yet! Repotting this Camellia effing sinensis Jr made her very happy indeed. Here’s the picture proof:

You know, seeing the success of CES Jr now going into her…fourth year, I think, or fifth…I can’t help but think of her predecessor, my first Camellia sinensis, which didn’t make it through its first winter. There’s a line in the Witcher TV show that I think readily applies here: “Sometimes the best thing a flower can do for us is to die.” I learned a lot from my first Camellia sinensis. Heck, she didn’t even get a cute nickname like CES Jr, but she did teach me a lot about growing tea plants. I almost dishonored her memory by waiting ALMOST too long to pot up CES Jr, and then we’d have to have a CES The Third and that just doesn’t roll off the tongue as well, you know?

But just look at those glossy green leaves piling in together in a mad rush to GROOOOW. Just look at those chunky white petals and the yellow stamen (stamen? pistils?) so thick that they bust those petals right open to scream COME AT ME, YOU BEES! FEAST UPON MY NECTAR! Here are some lovely perfectly round spherical flower buds and then BAM STAMENS ALL OVER THE PLACE HAHAHAHAHA.

It’s rather a rude plant, now that I think about it. But that’s why it’s Camellia EFFING sinensis, Jr.

There’s a moral here somewhere. If you’re a budding gardener (HAHAH!) don’t be discouraged if/when your plants die. They will, you know. Guaran-fucking-teed. But don’t be discouraged. Learn from it. I learned from my first Camellia sinensis how to get my second one through its first winter; and its second winter, and its third winter because I was scared okay?! But now that she’s potted up, I think she’ll be alright through this next winter.

Nah, no, I’ll still bring her inside if it looks like a random frost. Because she’s in a pot! Yeah. Not because I’m scared. Anyway, learn from your dead plants. They’ll be very helpful ghosts.