Gardening the High Sierra: Here’s A Planting Guide

So many folks are thinking of starting a garden this year, I thought our planting guide might be helpful. As you’ll see, these dates are ranges rather than hard-and-fast. But it’ll give you a rough idea of when to plant what if you’re here in our part of the Sierra!

Rick couldn’t wait to get started this year, so he planted our tomatoes and peppers in the greenhouse a day or so earlier than our “April 1 to 15” window — but you’ll be right on time if you’re thinking of starting things now!

Here’s what the inside of our greenhouse looks like. Yeah, that’s a lot of tomatoes and peppers! And this isn’t all. There’s more pots on the opposite side of the greenhouse.

Tomatoes and peppers galore.
Love those craft sticks aka tongue depressors. This is a batch of San Marzano seeds, plus pansies waiting to go in the ground.
Some things get started all on their own. This is Miner’s Lettuce, luxuriating in its pot on the back porch. That’s a blueberry bush in the center because — well, “intensive gardening.” No space goes to waste.
The other side of the greenhouse.

 

 

We’re at 5,500 feet on the Eastern Slope of the Sierra, so these dates are for our Zone 6 climate. That means we can expect our last frost between June 1-10 — the legendary “Mother’s Day Snow” is alive and well, here! But wherever you are, I hope this list will give you some ideas for your own garden this year.

Rick’s Garden Calendar:

Spring: (Mar/Apr/May)
Mar. 14 – 31 – Plant onions in the garden.
Mar. 15 – 21 – The “week when everything changes”! Makes total sense, as March 21st is the Spring Equinox. Pansies can be planted any time between now and mid-May.
Mar. 25 – First leaves typically appear on our aspen trees.
Mar. 15 – 31 – Time to clean out flower beds. Lawns will be mostly green by now, and ornamental willow trees will have a “green haze” at the top.
Mar. 22 – 30 – Start flower seeds in the greenhouse: bachelor button, coreopsis; snapdragon; marigolds; Chinese forget-me-nots; bluebells; larkspur.
Mar. 20 – April 20 – Keep an eye on the asparagus! You’ll be able to harvest fresh shoots now.
End of March – Expect lots of wind, even some snow flurries.
April 1 – Lilacs have nearly-open buds and the first green leaves will begin to appear on the aspens. The entire month of April tends to be cold, windy, rainy, cloudy, and it may even snow 2-3 times. In between those episodes, however, it will be sunnier (if still cold). Trees are starting to come out.
April 1 – 15 – Plant tomatoes and peppers in the greenhouse.
April 21 – 26 – The weather is gorgeous, but unpredictable! End-of-April snowstorms are still possible.
May runs 40 to 70 degrees. Lawns will be green!
May 7 – 14 – Leaves start appearing on the grapevines.
May 25 – The “perfect flower week,” when our columbine and other flowers are at their showy peak.
May 31 – Count on our annual “Memorial Day Snow” sometime near the end of May.

Summer: (June/July/Aug)
June 21 – Summer Solstice.
July 8 – 23 – Time to begin saving columbine, lupine, and other flower seeds for next year.
July 8 – Freeze basil and cilantro.
July 12 – Aug 15 – Pick currants.
July 27 – Aug 18 – First tomatoes are ready for eating! And pick the peaches!
Aug. 6 – Trim dead blooms from columbine and giant lupine, leaving only the still-green leaves.
Aug. 15 – Nights are getting cooler.
Aug. 15 – 31 – Time to put up tomatoes. Save seeds from dried snow pea pods.

Fall: (Sept/Oct/Nov)
Late Aug – Sept 10 – Pick grapes; finish up last of the tomatoes. Apples will be looking tempting but it’s still too early for Jonathan and Gala varieties to be fully ripe.
Sept 9 – Aspens are beginning to turn; the sun is just starting to come up at 6:30 a.m.
Sept 21 – Fall Equinox.
Sept 23 – It’s getting cold enough to start a fire. Time to finish gathering the last of the seeds and begin thinking about next year’s garden.

From Rick’s book, “Gardening the High Sierra“:

Gardening the High Sierra by Rick Dustman, available on Amazon.

A Treat From Me To You: These Muffins Rock!

I’m not normally a baker. But ohhh, these muffins! Something really good did come out of being stuck at home, trying to use up what’s in our freezer!

This recipe started out using canned pumpkin as the base. Then a light bulb went off. We’ve got all this frozen fruit put away! How about using up some of that great fruit from our garden?!

There’s no oil and no white sugar, just dates and stevia for sweetness. And instead of white flour (which is in sort supply these days), it uses whole wheat flour, almond flour and oats. Luckily, we already had all these alternatives on hand.

Here’s a video showing how they came out, fresh from the oven!

And here’s the Recipe:

Preheat oven to 360 degrees. Grease two muffin tins and set them aside.

Measure 3/4 cup of uncooked dry oats into blender and whirr on high until it becomes a fine flour. Add the oat flour to a large metal bowl.

To your now-empty blender, add:

  • 1 c. almond milk
  • 1 Tb. chia seed
  • 12 dates (I always cut them in half just to check for any overlooked pits!)

Blend well, the add the milk/date mix to the metal bowl. Also add:

  • 3/4 c. whole wheat flour
  • 3/4 c. almond flour
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 2 tsp baking soda
  • 1 Tb. stevia
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 tsp. pumpkin pie spice
  • 1 tsp. vanilla
  • 3/4 c. walnut pieces

Final step: add approx. 2 cups of pureed fruit. (Measure the fruit before puree-ing in the blender). This is a great use for frozen peaches! Just defrost slightly and then pop them in the blender. If you don’t have frozen fruit, you can substitute one (1) 15-oz can of plain pumpkin (not pumpkin pie filling). Or use 1-3/4 c. unsweetened applesauce.

Tip: I add a handful of frozen blackberries to the batter, straight from the freezer. That lets them retain a bit of their shape and taste.

Muffin batter (K. Dustman photo)

Mix well, and spoon into muffin tins. Bake for 35 minutes, until top edges are browned.

Muffins, fresh from the oven.

Enjoy!!

 

Yank That Dandelion – And Eat It!?

They’re the bane of gardeners everywhere. And adding insult to injury, they’re the happiest of flowers nobody ever planted. Cheerful yellow intruders, they pop up with smiling, sunny faces, as if mocking eradication efforts.

We’re talking the dandelion, of course. Native to Europe and Asia, the dandelion is said to have arrived in the New World in the early 1600s. Were the seeds stowaways when the Pilgrims first set foot at Plymouth Rock? Or were they deliberately brought along by colonists as a medicinal plant? No one seems to know for sure. But once having arrived in the New World, the dandelion quickly set its roots. And it’s certainly made itself right at home.

Public Domain – shared courtesy of National Library of Medicine; from “A Curious Herbal” by Elizabeth Blackwell (1737).

Like so many things we detest, though, there’s another side to dandelions if we look hard enough. The humble and ever-present dandelion has been treasured for centuries as both a food and a medicine.

Its roots have long been used as a detoxifying “tonic,” stimulating for the kidney, liver and gallbladder. The leaves make a dandy salad or smoothie green (yeah, pun intended), and some folks toss those cheerful yellow blooms in their salads as well. There’s dandelion tea (made by simmering the leaves), and dandelion “coffee” (brewed from the dried, ground root). And don’t forget that home-brewed staple of country living, dandelion wine. (Even proper Victorian women who weren’t supposed to imbibe strong drink were permitted to consume this “medicinal” remedy!)

Public Domain – shared courtesy of National Library of Medicine; from p 93 of “A New And Complete American Family Herbal” by Samuel Henry (1814).

The white sap that oozes from a dandelion’s cut stems or roots has been used in folk medicine to treat warts. Centuries ago, herbalists used the plant as a remedy for fever, depression and even hair loss. And some today say the root contains substances that could potentially help treat cancer. (Take all those “cures” with a grain of salt . . . but the cancer link just might be worth further research.)

Dandelion tea is easy to make: Just simmer the washed, chopped leaves and root for about 15 minutes, let cool, and strain. (It’s a natural diuretic, so check with your doctor first if you have liver, kidney, or gallbladder issues, or if you’re already taking a diuretic.)

Wash and cook the leaves just like spinach — like spinach, they’re high in iron and calcium.

And if you’d like to try making your very own dandelion wine (and wreak a bit of revenge on those cheerful yellow blossoms in the process), all it takes is a heaping quantity of flowers, a bit of yeast, some citrus fruit and raisins, and a lot of sugar. Oh, and a few weeks of toe-tapping as you wait for it to brew.

There are scads of recipes available online for making dandelion wine, but here’s one with great how-to pictures – plus a bonus recipe at the end for making dandelion cookies:

https://commonsensehome.com/dandelion-wine-recipe/

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(Photo at top:  Public Domain image shared courtesy of National Library of Medicine; from “Medical Botany” by William Woodville .)

Gold Country Roses

Visit a historic old graveyard in Mother Lode Country to see the — roses?!?  You bet!

Plymouth Pioneer Cemetery off Highway 49 is a cool place to visit, all by itself. But it turns out that this pioneer cemetery’s roses are so special they even have their own Facebook page! (Just type “Plymouth Pioneer Cemetery Heritage Roses” in the search box to find them.)

Pillars at the entrance to Plymouth Pioneer Cemetery bear engraved plaques with names of early pioneers and military veterans who are buried here.

Local volunteers banded together to “rescue, preserve and protect” these heritage roses so future generations can enjoy them. And they had quite a time with the “rescue” prong of their mission!

Buds were just starting to open when we visited in late April.
How amazing to see a rose developed in China pre-1835 — and so loved that later generations kept propagating it!

In the past, well-intentioned groundskeepers applied herbicides to the cemetery grounds and — yup, the antique roses too got sprayed. Sadly, some century-old rose bushes never made it. Then in 2014, the curator of the San Jose Heritage Rose Garden reached out to local residents to try to save the remaining heritage roses at Plymouth Cemetery. Thanks to the care of these dedicated volunteers, the cemetery’s antique rose bushes are thriving again — and what a treat for the eyes they are!

Pioneers lugged these heritage roses here to the Mother Lode. Some made the journey tucked in covered wagons, while others spent months in the dank, dark recesses of sailing ships. Once here, the beautiful flowers became important reminders of home. Treasured for their heady fragrance and beautiful shape, roses were also planted as a special tribute at a loved one’s grave.

Duchesse blooms.

Roses can be propagated from a cutting, with “babies” retaining the same characteristics as the mother plant; identifiable varieties can be traced back hundreds of years. Here at Plymouth Pioneer Cemetery, rose varieties  include the Duchesse de Brabant— a long-flowering “tea rose” dating to about 1857. Drought-tolerant and vigorous, this rose was said to have been a particular favorite of Teddy Roosevelt.

The Elizabeth Roberts rose, dating from the late 1800s, was at death’s door here at Plymouth Cemetery due — not just once, but twice! After two years of intensive TLC it bloomed again in 2017 — volunteers deemed its recovery a “garden miracle.”

The “Pulich Children” rose from the 1860s.

A gorgeous deep-pink hybrid known as the Pulich Children rose dates back to the 1860s. Cuttings propagated from a bush here at Plymouth Pioneer Cemetery have produced bushes that now grace other gardens, including the Howard Rose Garden at the Banning Museum in Wilmington, California.

Several of the gravestones here at Plymouth are also decorated with beautiful roses graven in stone. A couple we saw on our recent visit:

“Annie” has a beautiful stone rose on her headstone. As the inscription notes, “the angels took her home.”
Maryann Purcell died in 1889, just 13 years old. An engraved rose tops her headstone.

The Gold Rush town of Plymouth isn’t alone, of course, in having spectacular old roses in its cemetery. Sacramento, too, has a rose garden associated with an early cemetery. The collection of roses at Sacramento’s Old City Cemetery is said to be “among the world’s best,” boasting over 500 rare rose specimens from between 1850 and 1915. Many were collected and propagated from specimens at other old cemeteries and early homesites. Check them out here: http://oldcitycemetery.com/roses.htm. And for a wonderful story about how this special rose collection narrowly escaped being regulated out of existence: http://www.sacbee.com/news/local/article142206839.html.

Sacramento’s historic cemetery rose collection has its own Facebook page, too: type “Sacramento Historic Rose Garden” in the Facebook search box. (Be sure to check out the cool costumes its volunteers are wearing!)

And if you’re a true rose afficionado, there even a “Mother Lode Rose Society” you can join in Jackson.

The Pentecost Rose — not really a rose at all, but a peony.

Carson Valley, too, had its own old rose bushes — including a heritage “rose”  that isn’t really a rose at all. Many early homesteads were brightened by the deep red, rose-like “Pentecost Rose” peony — tubers of which are said to have first been brought to Carson Valley by Anna Neddenriep, all the way from her home in Germany.

Directions to reach the Plymouth Pioneer Cemetery:
From Jackson, go north on Hwy 49 through Sutter Creek and Amador City to reach the town of Plymouth. You’ll come to a stop sign; continue through for a short distance, then turn right on Church Street. Cross Landrun and keep going; the road will take you up a hill and jogs left; the cemetery entrance is on your right.

Don’t forget that selfie with a rose bush — share your history adventure with your friends!

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Spring Is Around Here Somewhere

The official start to Spring is — oh, next week, according to my calendar. March 20, to be precise. For gardeners like my husband, planting hopes spring eternal and start to ramp up the day after Christmas.

But calendars lie.

Gardeners’ hopes spring eternal. These seeds are languishing in our garage already.

Right after that purported grand debut of Spring comes Easter, a warm-sounding holiday which falls appropriately enough on April Fool’s Day this year. No doubt to remind us here in the High Sierra that only fools start thinking “planting time” is truly here by then.

It’s followed a few weeks later by Earth Day, April 22, by which time we ought to be getting warm enough to throw a few seeds in the ground, shouldn’t we? Well, that’s followed by May 3, National Day of Prayer, a helpful occasion if you’re thinking of asking a bit of Divine Intervention on those planting plans, just in case.

But today, just three short days away from the Official Spring,  is — well . . . .

Our “view” of the Valley says it all.
A grand day for reading seed catalogs and dreaming.