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October 24, 2017


Dear Skyliners,



The big news is we had our first rain last Thursday night/Friday morning.  Up at Skyline we had about 2/3 of an inch, which is plenty to kick off the new season.  Congratulations to Scott Hill of EBMUD for winning our guessing pool on the date; he guessed October 20, which was right on the money.  


We also had two more good workdays last week; on Wednesday we cut and raked at Diablo Bend (above the new bench) and on Sunday we raked and cleaned up old grass piles around the Bay Grove (and a little Scattergrass, too).  Welcome to Martha G and Charlotte.


We'll be out regular days this week: Wednesday at 4 and Sunday at 9:30.  Please let me know if you can make it.


First Rains:  for me the First Rains in California are like New Year's Day and the first day of Spring all wrapped up together.  We walk out into a world washed clean, fragrant, and already springing to life.  I went out to Skyline Friday morning and the first thing I noticed was the swarms of flying ants.  There were tens of thousands of them pluming up in the air.  Those were hard to photograph, but here's a picture of many of them on the ground, getting ready to fly:  

Does anyone know the species?  This happens every year after the First Rains and a warm, sunny morning.  These winged ants are mature adults, both males and females, who fly up in the air to mate.  This is called 'nuptial flight.'  Their huge numbers insure that some of them will actually find partners and be successful.  After mating, the males die, their life's purpose fulfilled.  The fertilized females then discard their wings and search for a nesting site.  In the afternoon, the trail was littered with thousands of these wings.


The plants, too, are moving.  With the soil now moist in the top few inches, our local Print Fern or Goldback Fern  begins to unfold their fronds. This photo was taken Sunday, three days after the rain, but fronds were already unfolding Friday morning:  

All summer, these little fronds were curled up tight in clumps of black and gold, like tiny, crinkled fists.  You can see the still curled edges on the left side of the photo.  These are last year's fronds, but they come back to life after the rains.  The new season's fronds will emerge from the base in about a month.  


Within the week, we'll start to see many species of seedlings sprouting in the shady areas.  Yoo-hoo Miner's Lettuce!!


Meanwhile, back home at our Skyline nursery, things are going gangbusters. We planted seeds on August 30.  Here's the 'before' picture just days after seeding:  

And now, two months later, and look what we've got:  

What you see is an assortment of Skyline bound plants, all grown from seed collected at Skyline Gardens, to keep the genetics pure.  These will be ready to plant out once the ground gets good and moist, probably early December.  It turns out that most native seeds, especially the perennials, are ready to sprout by mid-August.  With early sowing, they have the warm months of September and October to make tremendous growth.


Let's take a closer look, from left to right:

Here's California Phacelia (Phacelia californica), in what we call stubby tubes (yellow):  

tubes yellow.jpg

We have about thirty of these; they are transplants from seed sown last year.


Then, here's a mixed rack of Cobweb Thistle and Wooly Mule's Ears:

The Mule's Ears (Wyethia helenoides) are the front four rows; they are the slowest seeds to sprout, with the first ones taking a month; others will keep sprouting over the next six weeks.  You can see a few true leaves coming out.  Behind these is a mass of Cobweb Thistle (Cirsium occidentale).  We planted 25 tubes and every one is full.  They already have rosettes of 3 to 4 leaves.  


Next, we have two trays of grasses.    

On the left are six rows of Coast Range Melic (Melica torreyana); on the right are rows June Grass (Koeleria cristata).  These smaller grasses take time in making clumps, but they'll be ready.  We've got over 50 of each kind.


Here's the second grass tray, two species of Elymus:  

On the left we have Wild Rye (Elymus glaucus) and on the right Squirrel Tail Grass (Elymus multisetus).  Wild Rye is a woodlander; Squirrel Tail grows on hot, rocky ridge noses.  But they are closely related genetically, and sometimes hybridize to form Elymus x hansenii, which grows here and there at Skyline.  As you can see, these are ready to plant today, but the ground is not wet enough.  We'll need several inches of rain to get the ground ready.


Next we have our California Poppies:  

We'll have a couple of hundred of these guys to set out around the new Siesta trail entry, at Steam Trains corner, and the like.  I've done some transplanting to fill in the holes here.  Wisdom has it that Poppies are next to impossible to transplant; actually, they're really game little devils and are as easy to prick out as any other species.


Lastly, we have a mixed flat of Lupine and Chia:  

Arroyo Lupine (Lupinus succulentus) are on the left, and Chia (Salvia columbariae) on the right.  These are both annuals and some might actually bloom this fall.  I think they may be confused.  In the wisdom of hindsight, we should have planted these on October 1.  Oh well, operator error....  


The next ten days look sunny and clear; let's all focus on bringing another good storm our way.


Happy Trails,



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