Saturday, January 14, 2006

A Simple Garden Routine - useful for bad backs, no time, short budgets:

My current garden routine began evolving when I became too ill to work, approximately two and a half years ago. In the last year, after a bad car accident, I have been fine tuning that routine. The fine tune is something that will probably be in progress the rest of my gardening life, as my capacity for working in the garden ebbs and flows.

I call it a simple routine, because it is definitely simple compared to any garden routine I have had in the past. While I was not gardening much in the few years preceding my illness, I have been an avid gardener most of my life. Finding solace in the soil, being able to grow a significant portion of my food is my therapy, my medicine, my passion.

This routine could easily be adopted and adapted by other folks with mild to moderate disabilities that live in temperate climates. A necessity for making this work, is to be able to garden year around. If your ground is not frozen solid, not covered in a blanket of snow, if you have weeds in the winter – you probably can garden year round. We do get hard frosts and occasional snow here. However, many winter vegetables are adapted to the cold.

If you were to observe my gardening routine, it would be hard to determine where exactly the starting place is. At the center, perhaps, is an ordinary nursery flat of seedlings, mostly planted in six packs. I find that I am able to take care of this one nursery flat. I can lift it and bring it in at night, where it sleeps on top of the washing machine. It spends the day outside, either on the porch during storms, in the sun - if it is out in winter, and in the shade at least part of the day in the summer.

I start the seeds at different times, so only a few seedlings get planted out in the garden on any particular day. After I am able to plant out a few starts, I access how many empty cells I have in the six packs. I also take a look at what varieties are not yet big enough to plant. There are a few things I successively start by hand. As soon as the seedlings of these plants are ready to plant out in the garden I start seeds of them again.

If I don’t need to start any of my successively sown seeds, I examine the mix in my flat. I want a nice selection of seasonal veggies, a few ornamentals, and some really tall specimens for the back of borders or for the side yard where I plan to grow a mixed tall border and eventually a hedgerow.

Almost all the seeds for the nursery flat are started on wet paper towels tucked into a zip lock bag. This saves space, keeps them protected from insects and soil borne disease, keeps them evenly moist, and I can keep a close eye on them. Once they show signs of germination I transfer them to empty cells in the six packs and let them grow out there until they are ready to be planted out in the garden.

Part of my routine involves feeding the worms. I do not keep my worms in bins. They are free in the soil and as such they are able to regulate their own pH, temperature, moisture level, etc. by their movements through the soil. I do save all my compostables for worm food. When I have collected enough I dig one hole in the yard – about 18” deep. We have nice flood plain silt – so the digging is easy enough. I bury those compostables, and any presents left in my yard by wandering creatures - under 4 inches of soil.

I have a plethora of red worms and night crawlers. The night crawlers are up to a foot long, and sometimes even longer. They are the fattest worms I have ever seen (and no you can’t come dig around in my yard for your fishing adventures). These worms are pretty dang tame too. When they sense me digging out there, they come and watch me, flop themselves into the hole before I am done, stick their little heads out and wait, and other wise make a nuisance of themselves.

When I get done burying the worms’ dinner, I plant one or more of my starts in the soil crumbled on top of the hole. The plants love it, the worms love it, and I have a pace my body can live with. Generally I dig one hole every day or two or three. Occasionally I get backed up and dig two holes a day. (Right after the accident – my son dug the holes for me.) But pretty much it works out that I have a seedling (or two or three) ready to plant at the same time I have food for the worms. (And the extra soil is saved for raised beds.)

During the coldest months of the year, when the seedlings grow very slow, I supplement the seeds I start with bulbs and other divisions. I am able to trade for these with divisions from my own garden. In warmer weather I can rely on my own seedlings. And in warm weather - I often mulch around the seedlings when I plant them out. For mulch I use grass clippings, garden trimmings, or the free wood chips from Dave’s Tree Service. (Contact your local tree service and your utility company – you may find a source of free wood chips in your area.)

This makes a nice circular routine. By the end of the season, when the plants are finished and ready to be replaced, the worms have turned all the compostables into the most beautiful batch of worm castings you have ever seen. Spots where I have been using this technique for a year or two no longer require a shovel to turn the soil. I can literally reach my bare hands down to 18 inches, the tilth is that fine. And the wonderful thing for me is, I can do it.

Even though I am not capable of running a rototiller, double digging a raised bed, starting or weeding a whole garden on a weekend, or even turning a compost pile, I can do it. The main soil amendment is produced by worms from materials I would otherwise throw away. Most of my seeds are free. I save some myself and also trade with other gardeners. Gardening does not have to be expensive. Depending on where you live, your own inclinations and limitations, your garden routine might look very different than mine – but I am sure you can find a way to garden if you really try.

Copyright 2006 Harvest McCampbell

Friday, January 13, 2006


Cilantro can be grown year around here in the temperate zones of Northern California. It benefits from coastal fog, our plentiful rain, and the cool summer nights found along the coast and in our interior mountains and valleys. Fresh cilantro is valued in the kitchen for spring salads, summer garnishes and fresh salsa, and during autumn’s caning season. In winter cilantro is prized. Not only does it thrive in the garden; its fresh zesty flavor adds a welcome appeal at a time when many of our herbs have gone dormant.

Cilantro is classified as a short lived annual. If left to its own devices it will begin flowering and subsequently setting seed within about 6 weeks of germination. By pinching out the flowering stalks the plants productive life can be extended for several weeks at least. (Dice up those stalks and use them in the kitchen!) All parts of the plant are edible. In addition to the leaves and seeds, the flowers make nice garnishes for salads, and the roots are used in Thai cooking. (1)

Cilantro is most cost effectively grown from seed, which can be successively sown to ensure an ample supply through the seasons. It can be grown in pots situated in a sunny window, on a cool porch, in raised beds, or amongst flowers, vegetables, or herbs in the garden. Expect your plants to get up to a foot tall before they flower, and up to two and a half feet when in bloom. Cilantro’s flowering stalks have a weedy habit, sprawling loosely over near by plants. If you are going to let some of your cilantro bloom and go to seed, choose an out of the way place to plant it. The seeds will need to be left to ripen somewhere its slouching posture won’t overly annoy you. If you live in one of our hot summer zones, spring and summer plantings might best be situated where they will get plenty of shade. Fall and winter planted cilantro, and those planted in summer fog belts will benefit from the sunniest spot you can spare.

Gophers leave cilantro alone, at least in my garden. Not only is it bothered by few pests, its flowers attract beneficial insects. Ladybugs, lacewings, and the small wasps that parasitize caterpillars and aphids benefit from the high-energy pollen and nectar that cilantro produces.

Seeds from Cilantro are large, easy to handle, and are considered a seasoning in their own right. Cilantro seed is known as coriander. It can be ground and used in confections, baked goods, and curries. The whole seeds can be added to potpourri, or to herb blends for fragrant teas. The seeds are also reputed to have medicinal properties. I am most familiar with them being used as remedies for female complaints. But a search on the Internet turns up a plethora of ailments from swelling, to diarrhea, & high cholesterol etc. (2) Should you tire of cutting the flowering stalks from your cilantro plants, simply let them grow their wispy fragrant flowers and set seed.

As soon as the seed stalks are dry and brittle your coriander / cilantro seeds are ready to gather. They should be brought in and left to cure in a dry spot with good air circulation for a few weeks before being sealed into jars or zip lock bags. They are now ready to plant, for use in foods or crafts, or to trade with other gardeners for seed you would like to try.

Cilantro seeds have erratic germination, beginning within about a week of planting and continuing for about 6 weeks. I like to start them in the house on folded wet paper towels slipped into sandwich bags. They do need to be checked nearly every day. As soon as individual seeds show signs of germination, I transfer them to small pots or six packs. Any good potting soil or screened compost seems to work out well.

In the absence of a greenhouse, the small plants may live outside during the day, on the porch if it is raining, and out in the sun if the weather is fair. In the summer young cilantro plants should spend the day in light or dappled shade, and their need for water will have to be attended to a few times each day. Once the seedlings reach about 2 inches tall, they can withstand some nibbling by hungry slugs and are ready to be planted out in their permanent spot. Until that time I have the best luck bringing the seedlings in at night. If slugs are not a problem in your yard, you can sow the seeds directly where you want them to grow. In any event, once the plants reach a good size, the slugs’ interest turns to other less robustly flavored greens. By starting a few seeds every two or three months (or more seeds more often if you are very fond of this herb) you can supply your kitchen with plenty of cilantro and coriander through out the seasons.
Seed: Evergreen Seed: and many other fine garden catalogs and nurseries.
(I have seed – but I won’t be arranging any new trades till next fall.)

Recipes: A recent search on Google Blogs turned up about a zillion recipes:


886 Words
Copyright 2006 Harvest McCampbell

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Round Robins, Seeds, & Worms

Dear Readers!

(I think there are a couple of you now . . .) Today I got to work out in the yard. I feed those always hungry worms, planted some calla lilies, and weeded one of my raised beds. I finally got my donation sent off to the community garden located on the Rosebud reservation. I sent them 15 bare root blackberry plants, 10 Jerusalem Artichoke bulbs and lots of veggie seeds from my seed list. I also received a round robin - a big box of seed from a group I belong to. Round robins are a lot of fun. They consist of a box where the participants deposit any extra seed they may have from their garden, from trades, or extras from purchased seed. Each person selects the seeds they want, and before mailing to the next person on the list - they add seed from their own collection. Depending on the robin and how much seed is in the box - the rules may be to add more than you take, or to take what you can use and add what you can.

In any event it is great fun. I belong to two round robins and have now had one turn in each. Both times I found seed that I all ready knew I wanted - but was unlikely to purchase, as well as other fun things to try. From my first round robin I have growing some as yet very small blackberry lilies, some Zebrina Mallow, and one autumn climatis. The blackberry lilies were something I wanted for their showy fall seeds, the Zebrina Mallow I wanted for its showy flowers and edible leaves, flowers, and seeds. The Autumn climatis I had never heard of - but selected some seed just for fun. In the mean time I looked it up and it is very fragrant and blooms in the fall . . .

If anyone reading this would like more information as to how you can join a round robin you can e-mail me, instant message me, or reply to this post.

I don't know if I will get out in the garden tomorrow - I have to go to town for a big grocery shopping trip. But we shall see . . .

Hope you had a wonderful day . . .


Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Rainy Day Read for gardeners everywhere

Dear Reader

Tuesday is my busy day, so I am cheating a bit. I am going to post here a short book review I wrote a while back and posted on my yahoo groups, and talk about about my garden - sort of . . . I am not sure if you have seen this book review or not . . . But if you get a chance to check the book out let me know what you think.

I found "Gardens in the Dunes" by Leslie Marmon Silko at my public library. It is a historical novel and it has something for gardeners and history buffs of every kind. Set primarily in the US before the advent of cars, we are treated to an inside view of the gardening lives of many different sorts of people -

There are horticulture explorers smuggling plant materials out of foreign lands for profit

There are high society gardeners with huge impressive estates

There are Native gardeners growing foods and medicine

There are farms for food

Seed collectors

And even a fellow experimenting with ways to feed the worlds poor . . .

All of this is woven into a delightful story full of characters you will adore . . .

If you can't get into the garden - visit the library instead . . .

Which is one of the things I did today - and I found another cool garden related book which I will share with you - sooner or later . . . Yesterday it was sunny and nice, and my garden related tasks were simply putting saved seeds in packets - for the community garden on the rez, as well as a couple of seed banks and round robins I am involved with. Today it is raining and raining and raining - in fact they are expecting more flooding down at the mouth of the Klamath . . .

I would like to be out in the garden today - but I guess my timing is off . . . I do have a few more seed orders to pack - from trades . . . I also have some seeds set to germinate I need to check. And I have the donation to box up. If it keeps on raining that may be the extent of my garden activities for the day. But if we get a break in the rain I am definitely going to get out there and feed my worms.

Don't you just love to play in the mud?

Oh, that reminds me, I wanted to share a link to a friends blog - she has a cute story on their about another creature she rescued that likes to play in the mud:

Till next time,


Monday, January 09, 2006

Nightmares, Babies, and Real Food

Dear Reader,

It is 4 am and I just woke up from a dream. I only remember a tiny snippet, but dang if it isn’t a theme that’s repeating nightly. In tonight’s (this morning’s) snippet one of my Aunties was saying “You can’t grow a baby on supplements, you have to eat Real Food.” Some part of me, that wasn’t involved with this dream said, “What?” real loud and woke me right up. I sat right up thinking “What the . . .” and put my hand down where my belly used to be before I got so skinny. I thought, “Naw, it can’t be.”

Menopausal celibate women (or men for that matter) seldom turn up pregnant. Since the first two or even three descriptors belong to me, I don’t have much to worry about. (But then if the forth manly descriptor belonged to me I wouldn’t have anything to worry about . . . or wait a minute, maybe I definitely would . . .)

I have been dreaming variously that I am pregnant, nursing a baby, giving birth, or parenting a very young child. The thought is terrifying. I am still trying to recover from a bad car accident I was in almost a year ago. I have a long way to go. At this point the medical authorities seem to think I am permanently, totally disabled. My body is about as crunched up as you can get and still be walking around looking fairly normal. I don’t feel good. I can barely lift 2 pounds, and I used to lift weights for fun. Packing a baby around would do me in.

To top off the crunched up body, literally, I have brain damage. (I am not really complaining here, not about my body or my brain. I could be in a wheel chair, or a vegetable, or dead. Really I am grateful, don’t get me wrong.) I miss my brains. My thought processes barely resemble what they used to be. But life is going on.

I used to have these things that the docs say are definitely not seizures. Over the last year they have diminished to the point that most other people would not call them seizures either. It is almost as if I have an automatic pause function installed in my brain. Right at the specific moment where it is pretty dang important to respond – I stall out. Remember those reel-to-reel movies they used to show us old fogies back when we were in school? Every once in a while they would miss feed and the moving picture would suddenly stop. My pause dysfunction is a lot like that. Except I am the only thing that stops – the rest of everything keeps on going.

I’ll give you an example. The other day I was trying to get the dogs in the back yard, and they kept escaping – one at a time. Then things got a little out of hand. Two of them were out and one of them decided that now was a good time to pick a fight. It was all grrrrr and flashing teeth. Right when I needed to do something I couldn’t. P a u s e . . .

Used to be when I hit those overload places I blanked out. That was kind of blissful while it was going on, and disturbing when it was over. Now instead of blanking out I am painfully aware. Aware that I now have three dogs running and bouncing around within 6 feet of my body, any two of which definitely out weigh me. Aware that if I don’t snap out of it and kick some well muscled rear flanks they might decide to bloody each other up. Aware that one of the busy bodies on the “Neighborhood Watch Harvest Program” is probably observing me - frozen and ineffectual - and may be relaying a blow by blow account on the phone to some other busy body. “Harvest is out there right now and those creatures she keeps for pets are running totally a-muck and she is just standing there. Why doesn’t she do something? I am sorry Dear; I have got to go. I must call the landlord right now and let her know how irresponsible that woman really is.”

All right, I admit it, this time I am imagining it. It is winter and everyone’s windows are closed. But I have actually over heard one of these busy bodies giving a report by telephone, of all things, about what I was wearing to work in the garden. And the landlord has, on occasion, sat me down to have serious discussions with me about the Neighborhood Watch Harvest Program’s reports.
I am on pause. All of this is going on in my head, the dogs are bouncing around like a circus act that seems to be threatening to go very wrong, and I am on pause. I can’t fricken move. And by doctoral decree I am not having a seizure. Ya know, you have to shake around or twitch or go blank brained or fall down for it to be a seizure. And even though I used to do all of that at moments like these, they weren’t seizures then either. Go figure.

So, the idea of having a baby is straight up terrifying. Not only do I pause; I forget what I am doing, while I am doing it. I wouldn’t be able to lift the poor thing, I might freeze up if it really needed me, and if it crawled off for a nap in some corner or another, I would probably forget it even existed. Thank goodness I am celibate and menopausal. That seems to be pretty good insurance against pregnancy. At least at the moment. At least in the real, rational, waking world.

I think all of this dreaming of babies, potential babies, birth and so forth has more to do with recreating my life, with newness, rebirth, renewal, and continuance than actually reproducing. I am deeply involved with fashioning a new life. Right now my life does not vaguely resemble its former self. I can not think in the shadow of how I used to think. But I try to commune with the soil of the garden on a daily basis. And I am made new. I am healing. It is a slow process. I may never resemble my former self. And that is just going to have to be OK.

Real Food. There is the real food that feeds our bodies. The real food that feeds our souls. There is the real food from the garden that I admire and aspire towards. Then there is the real food that the Auntie in that dream was lecturing me about. The real food that I can not eat; food that is high in protein, B vitamins, and iron, like whole grain bread, beef, beans, nuts, eggs, dairy, and soy. I used to enjoy eating all these things, but I became so ill with my migraines that they about finished me off. By serendipity I discovered that I lacked an enzyme that most people use to break down a common food chemical. Amines are part of the nutrition most people rely on. For me they are poison. Amines concentrate in aged, stored, and processed food. My chronic migraines brought me back to the garden, and the real food I am able to grow with my own hands has been a part of my healing. Not just from migraines.

After the accident I had to teach myself how to pull weeds. My hands did not automatically do anything. Each movement had to be premeditated and plotted. To a certain extent that is still true. I am still working on fine motor control and eye hand coordination in the garden. Yesterday I sifted some compost, spread it out on one of my raised beds, and then sprinkled the bed with a mix of mustard, turnip, radish, lettuce, and parsnip seeds. I also made a wreath on a base made from some long shoots from one of my young plum trees. I wove around that with some flowering alder boughs and finally worked in some winter sprigs of wild rose with nice red hips and some of the mature and immature seed heads from my tobacco plant. It took way too long, and the results are not professional – but I can do it.

It is a new life. And it is good enough.

Dear Reader, I am going back to bed before the sun comes up. A little later today I hope to pack up some seeds to donate to a community garden on the Rosebud Indian Reservation. Perhaps if you have some extra vegetable seeds you would like to make a donation too. They are pursuing real food and new lives. We can help them in this small way and it will be good enough. Just ask, and I will pass on the contact information. Wish me sweet dreams!

Sunday, January 08, 2006

Real Food & Mud

Real Food, of course, is a very subjective idea. What I think is real food, and what someone half way around the world thinks of as real food, may be two very different things. For me the idea of Real Food, is that which I can easily grow, is easy to prepare, is tasty and pleasant to eat, and which actually contributes to my diet in a substantial and healthy way. Out of our mud comes health. (And here in the Pacific Northwest we certainly have our fair share of mud right now . . .)

One of the things I plan to do on this blog is to share tips on the Real Food that can be nurtured here in USDA Zone 8. (More specifically, a mountain valley with some coastal influence in remote Northern California.) And then of course there is the other mud, the gossip and secrets . . .

The Scandalous Secrets that are moldering around my broken brain - have more to do with politics, the evil economics of corporate capitalism, and other ugly modernisms - than they have to do with that age old garden ritual - sex in fecund mud. There are many forces at play in the world today, that attempt to (and are often successful at) economically and philosophically strong arming gardeners and farmers. In the face of corporate actions some dirt poets have become frightened of saving their own seed. Others are stirring towards freedom, towards the scent of soil that has been carefully tended and nourishes ideas of a green revolt. Stay tuned, I will try to keep you informed on this most important garden gossip (and other trivial tid-bits) as they germinate and sink roots in fertile mud.

Ahhh, the pleasures of mud. Don’t get me wrong; I am not opposed to squirming around in summer warmed, river lapped, native clay. Memories of such are sure to keep me warm in my old age. However, I really don’t recommend that practice in the garden (or where the busy bodies can see you). All that rhythmic action is sure to compress the soil and squish the worms. If you don’t choose your spot more carefully than I, some sort of negative result is bound to follow. (Dang them busy bodies anyway . . .) It was a long time ago, but I was expelled from the best public high school in that county. I wouldn’t wish that result on anyone, but I don’t think it harmed my ability to garden . . .

Which is exactly what I am off to do right now. I have a bit of compost to screen, some mulch to spread, and my Nicotiana tabacum needs pruned.

Please feel free to introduce yourself. You can post a reply, a comment, a question, or even a criticism. Just be nice about it. I believe I have a delete button I can use if you don’t mind your manners. ; ) I think you can also post links back to your web page or blog. If anyone other than you, dear reader, visits these pages they will be able to explore your projects, thoughts, or even see what you really think about Real Food & Scandalous Gardening Secrets.

Until next time I am wishing you Whirled Peas (and freedom from corporate thieves) . . .