Saturday, February 04, 2006

First Flowers for the Season / Violets and English Daisies

First Flowers for the Season / Violets and English Daisies

“There’s a flower!” The little girl leaning over the old pole separating our yards was delighted and surprised. “Yes,” I told her, “it’s the first one, and you found it!”

Little girls and miniature daisies are both sweet and delightful. They are welcome diversions on mild days from the deluge of stormy weather we have been having here in Northern CA. I am reminded of the tiny bouquets of violets and English daisies I once picked as a child. And then there were the daisy chains children everywhere like to weave. Do you remember the little daisies you picked as a teen? They helped us answer the all-important question: “He loves me? He loves me not?”

English daisies and violets are often the first flowers to bloom for the year. They rarely wait till it is officially spring to begin whispering that warmer (and hopefully drier) weather is near. They are easy to grow, from nursery starts or seeds. If you have gardening friends you may even be able to arrange a trade for a few plants to start in your own yard. Once established both the daisies and violets are likely to spread, which makes them fun to share. And they are easy to transplant.

English daisies perform best with at least partial sun. I have quite a few of the handsome low evergreen mats. They pop up on their own in the lawn, and I encourage them in my mixed borders and beds. The ones blooming in my yard now, get sun (when it bothers to peek out) most of the day. Violets on the other hand prefer a spot in the shade. They will be happy to grow beneath a tree, or on the shady side of your porch. My violets get very little winter time sun, yet they are cheerfully decorated with little purple blooms.

English daisies and violets were once considered useful plants and were not grown only for they early blooms. They were considered medicinal plants, and the flowers of both the daisies and violets are edible. (If you are allergic to pollen – you should skip the idea of tasting flowers.) For those who would like to try them, they add pizzazz to salads, cake decorations, and ice cubes for fancy drinks.

Now, I know you are thinking that it is way to cold for iced drinks. But if you have room in your freezer, simply drop a flower in each compartment of your ice cube tray. Add water, and freeze. Once they are solid, empty the trays into an airtight bag or other container. This should keep them from forming crystals or dehydrating. Simply keep them frozen until you are ready to use in warmer weather.

The leaves from violets are considered edible. I have tried them, and I really can’t say that I recommend them. However, if you have a goodly patch, and lack many other winter greens, they make an acceptable addition to soups. (And they are considered nutritious.) You may find them recommended as additions to salad, but they are a little tough for my taste.

Don’t forget to look for violets and English daisies while you are selecting seeds or plants at the nursery or in your favorite catalogs. They need very little care, and will brighten your late winter days with their happy blooms. The children in your life might even venture out on dry days and pluck you tiny precious bouquets that you can enjoy arranged in a miniature teacup or vase. The sweetest things need not be large or rare, when they arrive right on time.

For more on edible flowers see:">

For more on English Daisies see:">

Links to everything you could possibly want to know about violets can be found by scrolling down on this page:">

649 words Copyright 2006 Harvest McCampbell

Friday, February 03, 2006

Love / A Gardening Poem


i will become
that living soil
beloved flesh
of earth

bury me
where worms feed
scatter seed
i will take new form
in the deep embrace
of roots

grieve a moment
if you must
but then rejoice
we are all just
a part of this
one life

revel in golden light
sun warmed earth
the fragrance of
pollens mysterious delight

inhale these dear
these tender things
that my soul
and substance
have become

and I will be
with you

at last
we will become
that living soil
the beloved
flesh of earth

until then
you will find me in the garden
precious seeds
near to hand

Copyright 2-3-06 6:00 AM Harvest McCampbell

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Bring on the Frogs, Toads, & salamanders!

Dear Readers,

Last time I went to town I was in hot pursuit of some Sluggo - as I have mentioned in a previous post. I was full aware that the stuff is not as harmless as they claim, but had my plans to try to keep anything but the slugs from being poisoned. Alas, it was not offered anywhere I looked. (My aches and pains definitely keep me in check. Shopping till I drop usually entails 3 or 4 stores.)

Yesterday a friend ran me on some errands, and we stopped in the local nursery. No luck there either. But a few people let me know they had seen my gardening articles in the local paper! Hurrah! (Heck, I still haven't seen either of them . . . The second one was the piece on Fennel I also posted here. )

This morning I was chatting with my ex-husband on the phone. He is an avid gardener, an awesome artist, a fantastic massage therapist, the best friend you could ever want - but a lousy husband. We are great friends. I brought up the Sluggo and my son was listening from the other room. Anyway - Ex-hubby and his girl friend have each tried the Sluggo on their gardens with different results. Everywhere he used the Sluggo his ground molded - and no where he didn't use it. And he has a bumper crop of baby snails. His lady however, has had good luck with the stuff and is able to buy it at the Dollar Store!

Hmmm . . . I was having some second thoughts. When I got off the phone Son totally nixed the Sluggo idea. He said "Mom, ladies who can't walk and talk on the phone at the same time do not get to play with poison." Oh yea. Dang but he has a point. I can't walk and talk on the phone at the same time. I have problems walking and having stuff in my hands. I have problems walking and talking. Walking with the phone in my hand and trying to talk is just over my edges. Funny things happen to you when you have brain damage.

I definitely couldn't argue with his logic. So I said, "Then you pick the slugs morning and evening - cause I don't feel well enough." He just shook his head to that. I thought a few seconds, then said, "Then you buy me big bottles of cheap beer and I'll use that." It is settled, my slugs are condemned to death by alcoholism. I am sort of against it, being clean and sober for 23 years. But I have to agree, that ladies who can't walk and talk on the phone at the same time shouldn't be playing with poison. Dang it anyway. (I am not sure how long it has been since anyone accused me of being a lady - but that is a story for a different day . . .)

I've been thinking about salamanders. I used to keep them when I was a girl. (And no one accused me of being a lady then.) Now we have giant salamanders and pretty dang big tiger salamanders in our woods. We have external gilled mud puppies in our creeks, but none of these are what I have in mind. Toads and them afore mentioned salamanders need a real specific habitat. I am thinking the little itty bitty salamanders might be happy with just herbacious cover. I am thinking they can slither in and out of slender spaces, unlike big fat ravenous toads. I might be able to make do with slender salamanders on slug patrol until I can get some shrubs and hedges going well enough to have just the right toad habitat. Growing that habitat is going to take some doing - with a budget that primarily allows for seeds and cuttings . . .

So, I will be having a beer bash for the slugs, and inviting in the slamanders . . . Seems they are having a population explosion up north - maybe someone will want to trade some slamanders for some seeds:

Hey we had a great garden day! Sun almost came out. And it never rained hard enough to chase me in. Course I am about half dead now . . . But that usually don't stop me for long . . .

Hope you all had a good garden day too . . .


Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Six weeks till the middle of March

Dear Friends,

A few days ago, I realized that in just 6 weeks it will be the middle of March. This is a sign of growth! Not only a sign of impending spring, a sign to get busy starting seeds, but a sign of healing for me. This is the first time since the accident that I have been able to understand the calendar, or to anticipate the passage of time. Very important activities for the gardener. (However, not entirely necessary - as I have been growning most of my veggies for the last year, inspite of looking at clocks and calendars and having it meaning exactly nothing.) So, Hurray!

And hurray for it being almost spring! Oh course we have had something like 15 inches over our average for the season to date. Other than my plums getting ready to bloom, and some bulbs starting to grow, it really doesn't feel like spring at all. Right now the yard and gardens have standing water and it seems cold and dark.

None the less, I am going to start summer seeds very soon. I stager my plantings, partially because of my disabilities and not being able to do lots at once. And partially to spread out the harvest. Last year I was still picking ripe summer squash in November!

I am going to start with, and I know this might sound ridiculous, 1 each of 2 different varieties for each of the following plants: Summer Squash, Winter Squash, Peppers, Tomatoes, cucumbers, and Melons, Sea Kale, Egyptian and Malabar spinach. I will start only 1 seed of two different varieties of each. Then every month through July or August, I will repeat the same more or less. I know that the plants I start this early might not make it, and the plants I start late might not produce, depending on the weather. But sometimes I get summer veggies right up to Christmas, so it is worth trying here in zone 8 or warmer.

After the first month I will probably only start one summer squash a month, as we eat less of that than Winter squash. And I will also start some Sea Kale, Egyptian and Malabar spinach. I will also start 6 Roma tomatoes in March or April for salsa. And I will continue to start other greens, lettuce, and some root crops in between. It will be tasty!

Of course I am still getting produce now - Brussels Sprouts, Kale, Chinese Mustards and other greens, Turnips, and very soon I will begin pulling parsnips . . .

I had a busy day packing seed orders and organizing seeds and stuff. Still not done, but it is getting closer,

Wish me luck!

Tuesday, January 31, 2006

In the mail, free seeds, etc.

Mail Box: Free seeds, a new catalog and magazine, a garden club, and today's bonus, a list of on-line gardening groups:

Free Seeds! Winter Sown Educational Organization: I saw a message about free seeds being offered for a SASE on one of the garden groups I belong to, a while back. * So I went and visited the web-site and sent off my business sized SASE. I received back seven packets of seeds. The seeds I received were different than the ones the person first posting on the subject received; you have no choice. One of the varieties I was actually lusting after – Breadseed Poppies. Three others are related to plants I seem to be making collections of salvia, milkweed, and candy lily. But don’t get your heart set on something in particular. Be ready for a surprise. You will find complete details on how to easily and cheaply start your seeds, as well as the address to send you SASE at:

Scam? – National Home Gardening Club: I am not sure that this is for real. The mailer uses all kinds of tactics I learned about in college: creating the illusion of exclusivity, complimenting the intended victim, appealing to greed by offering something for nothing. Additionally, long ago and far away, when my Son was a boy, he received a similar ‘offer’ but related to fishing instead of gardening. Anyway – they imply that you will get to test gardening supplies and then get to keep them. I am not holding my breath. But I did take the bait. I didn’t have to sign anything; I can cancel at anytime, and was promised free seed etc. I seem to be a sucker for free seeds – whether I need them or not. I will try to remember to keep you posted.

Plant Catalog – Forest Farm: I just received the spring 2006 catalog and it is really enticing as usual. The catalog cost $5.00, and is well worth it to avid gardeners and designers with a budget for plants. The catalog is about the size of an average paperback book, and it is packed with the largest selection I have ever run across. They specialize in woody plants, perennials, grasses, ferns, bamboo (including edible types), palms, and fruit. The catalog contains descriptions, requirements, botanical and common names, hardiness zones, and keys to uses including food, wildlife, fragrance, etc. While they have some bargains, this catalog is not really for the bargain seeker. It is more for those with a need for a certain specimen for a special spot, or for the experienced collector looking for hard to find varieties. A special note of interest to other Northern CA gardeners - they are located in the Pacific north west so plants should be adapted to our weather. You can visit their web site at:

Magazine - Cottage Living: This was a gift from an on-line gardening friend. Thanks!!! I recently received my first issue, and I really enjoyed looking at the photos and reading the articles. The have a great piece on growing citrus inside, instructions for a simple potting bench, and a list of gardening book recommendations. (Only one of which is familiar to me, Sunset’s Western Garden.) There were plenty of other articles and photos related to the Cottage Style. I even picked up a tip from their bathroom article, snagged myself some inexpensive baskets, and now my shampoo, etc. have a new home – Cottage style.

Note from above – On-line gardening groups:
*I don’t remember which group it was. But if you are looking for some gardening conversation, want to arrange some trades, or hope to jump into or start a round robin, or want to participate in a seed bank - check these out:

Monday, January 30, 2006

A Seedy Perspective

A Seedy Perspective (Some Thoughts and a Couple of Books)

Modern culture and commerce has evolved to the point that folks can garden, grow their own food, and have beautiful landscapes without ever touching a seed. This is, perhaps, considered the civilized way to grow plants. One can select them at the nursery, have one’s hired hands pop them into the ground where indicated, and then prune, pluck, and pick without ever having to soil one’s hands. The state of civilization may have evolved to the point, for some, that this is the only way they have time to garden.

“The Emergence of Agriculture,” by Bruce D. Smith reminds us that civilization, as it is understood by western man, evolved from intimate relationships with seed and soil. It began with the intentional adaptations of human beings to seeds, and those seeds subsequent adaptations to gardeners and gardens. From there the budding of civilization grew through the intentional selection of seeds from those plants that early gardeners admired. Qualities like hardiness, larger seeds, tastier produce, quicker fruiting, greater storage life, and many others were hand selected from plants that had originally been wild or weedy.

The improved harvests from gardeners and gardens provided abundance, food security, and subsequent leisure. Time was then available to create more complex social forms, to expand architecture, to further explorations into art, and so forth. This eventually lead to commerce and professionalism and for many, the divorce from the civilizing relationship of man and seed.

In the small but rich booklet “Save Your Own Seed,” by Lawrence D. Hills, the dichotomy between those still engaged in that primal seed selection process and those who would leave our seed selection to professionals is finally drawn. While Smith in “The Emergence of Agriculture” examines what is known about the very beginning of our roles as seed selectors, “Save Your Own Seed” illuminates our evolution as seed savers, and our impending peril. The abundance of Heirloom varieties is celebrated. Gardeners had developed these varieties by many generations of hand selection. The varieties are each adapted to small niches in a plethora of microclimates, sensibilities, and cuisines. This wondrous variety is at risk.

Hills wrote his small volume after 50 years of experience with gardening and garden writing in Britain. And while the book was written in 1975, much of what threatened seed diversity then, still threatens us today. The growing professionalism of the nursery trade in Britain and Europe brought international treaties outlawing the sale of many heirloom vegetables. These tediously and lovingly hand selected varieties may be imperil of disappearing.

In “Save Your Own Seed,” Hills encourages us to seek out heirloom varieties of various foods. He points in directions that some of this variety can be found. Instructions are given on the selection process for various crops. There are also suggestions on how we can compare our efforts to our starting point, so we know if we are making improvements or not. It is not only a thoughtful and instructive booklet; it is poetic in places as well.

One of Hills’ points is that sometimes in the home garden, seed saved from such a small genetic pool will decrease in vigor over time. So far I have not seen that in my own efforts, however, while I have been gardening long, I have not been saving seed consistently until the last few years. One of my gardening mentors, Bonnie Coleman, had been saving seed for several decades when I came to shadow her efforts. While she saved her own seed, she didn’t grow named varieties of any of her crops. Her efforts were more towards selecting from what worked well for her, and crossing that stock with the newest award winners, even if they were hybrids. In this way her selection process was on going, and she was able to maintain genetic diversity within her garden.

Bonnie Coleman was also involved with “auditioning” as Smith refers to the idea of testing plants out for possible inclusion in the garden. While at the time of “The Emergence of Agriculture” those early gardeners were primarily auditioning wild plants for places in those first gardens. Bonnie and other avid gardeners have continued that process, often primarily testing various domesticated plants for fitness in their particular gardens. However, Bonnie, and other avid gardeners I have had the pleasure of knowing, often include a number of wild plants in their recruitment and auditioning efforts as well.

It is this experimenting, auditioning, and the trial and error of gardening where we do much of our learning of the process. Discussions and friendships with other gardeners enrich our process, as well as diversify our plant collections through the trading of seeds and slips. Reading continues our gardening education. Through books we can embrace the history, thoughts, and life-ways of gardeners - modern, historic, and ancient. We can feed our perspective, nourishes our wisdom about our place in this vast earthly landscape, this infinitesimal Garden of Eden. Don’t forget it all began, when the first gardener held a seed, and understood. *

I definitely recommend the following books to feed your gardening perspective:

“The Emergency of Agriculture,” by Bruce D. Smith, Published by Scientific American Library, A division of HHLP, New York, 1995, ISBN 0-7167-5055-4 (From the Willow Creek Library, CA)

“Save Your Own Seed,” by Lawrence D. Hills, Published by The Henry Doubleday Research Association, 1975, no ISBN (From the Hoopa Library, CA)

To get started saving your own seed, please see:

Once you have a collection of saved seeds, you will want to think about organizing them:

938 words, Copyright 2006, 2015 Harvest McCampbell

Please feel free to share.

Sunday, January 29, 2006

Florence Fennel, Real Food

Florence Fennel, Real Food
1384 words
Copyright 2006 Harvest McCampbell

Florence fennel is a delicious and easy to grow - cool weather vegetable. It minds its manners in the garden, unlike its wilder cousins you may have noticed growing along the highway and in vacant lots near the coast. Those wild fennels can grow upwards of 3 – 5 feet tall and the individual plants can reach 6 feet around. Florence fennel by contrast is a diminutive and graceful plant, equally at home in the flower bed or vegetable garden. It is grown primarily for its tender and delicious bulbs, however the stalks, leaves, flowers, and seed are also edible.

Fennel bulbs are much esteemed in Epicurean, European, and other high brow cuisine. Their delicate flavor lends them to inclusion in many dishes, both fancy and simple. They can be grated or slivered raw into salads, diced or sliced for inclusion in soups, casseroles, and stir-fries. The tender stems and leaves can also be used in soups or included with other wild and garden offerings for a mixed sauté of greens and onions. The whole bulbs can also be split in half or quarters, depending on the size, and steamed, braised, or even lightly broiled. They make a tasty and elegant side dish, which can be dressed up with a light mustard or hollandaise sauce, if you must.

The bulbing fennels reach about 2 feet in the garden, before flowering. They have gracefully fern like; fragrant leaves and they thrive in cool moist weather. In temperate mild winter interior zones along Northern CA river valleys, Florence fennel can be successively sown from the autumn equinox through the spring equinox. Those people who live in the cool coastal fog belt can grow and enjoy fresh fennel all year, while those in the snowy mountains will have to content themselves with a spring and fall crop. Those of you that live in the hot summer zones of Northern CA and restrict your gardening to summer time will miss out on this lovely delicacy.

Seeds and sometimes young plants are available from many garden centers, nurseries, and catalogs. My first seeds came from: The seeds were listed as “Fennel Victoria Hybrid - Foeniculm vulgare var. dulse Victoria Hybrid.” I have also bought young plants from Pierson’s Nursery, which were simply labeled “Florence Fennel.” If you are lucky enough to find nursery starts, plant them out in the garden in an area where they get at least a few hours of sun a day, if possible. They do benefit from a spot with good drainage, and protection from gophers is ideal. However don’t be dismayed if you can’t provide the ideal. Fennel is not overly picky. I often grow plants in full winter shade, in spots with poor drainage, and with no gopher protection. It may not be ideal, but I still harvest delectable bulbs.

Seeds can be direct sown, started in 6 packs, or started on a wet paper towel in a plastic sandwich bag. The plastic bag route saves space if you are starting many varieties at once. It also guarantees the seed are evenly moist. You do, however, need to keep a close eye. As soon as the seeds begin germinating they need to be transferred to cell packs. Fennel seeds generally begin germinating within a few days, and most will be up within a week, except during the coldest parts of the winter. I find the young seedlings have a pretty high mortality rate, so I start about twice the number of seeds that I hope to plant out. It takes from 6 to 8 weeks from starting until they are ready to be planted in the garden.

Once your fennel is established, it will be about 2 months until you can cut your first tender bulbs. These bulbs are produced above the ground, and can be used in almost any recipe that calls for celery. Watch the base of the plants, when your bulbs reach the size of tennis balls you can begin cutting them for kitchen use. Only cut as many as you will use on any particular day. The ones left in the ground will grow slowly until they reach softball size or even larger.

When cutting the bulbs think first of how you are going to use them. If you want whole bulbs to halve or quarter, make your cut well below the base of the bulb. Plants cut this low are unlikely to re-sprout. If you are going to dice or sliver your fennel, leave a bit of the bottom of the bulb behind. Fennel cut in this way sometimes re-sprouts. While it is unlikely to form additional bulbs, it may flower and set seed. The flowers and seeds themselves are edible and useful. If you save your own seed to grow you will be a little ahead of the game for the next season.

Summers heat will also cause Florence fennel to bolt. The spindly stalks, which rarely reach 3 feet, benefit from staking. The delicate flowers make a delightful cup of tea or a classy addition to salads. However they are not produced in abundance. If you want seed, leave the flowers to bloom. The nectar and pollen attracts beneficial insects to the garden. If you watch from a short distance you may notice ladybugs, trichogama wasps, lacewings, and hover-flies visiting the flowers. While they are busy filling their tanks for the important and high-energy work of hunting, eating, and parasatizing garden pests – they are also pollinating the flowers.

After the flowers wilt watch carefully as the seeds develop. When the seeds are fat and the stalks turn brown, pick the seed stalks and bring them in to dry in an airy spot. (If you do not catch them in time they may be eaten by birds or simply drop to the ground.) Once the seeds are completely dry you can store them in a seal-able plastic bag or small jar with a tight fitting lid. These seeds can be used to make tea or to season deserts and sauces. Florence fennel sets its seed sparingly, so you may want to reserve it for growing.

Rumors abound that you can’t save seed from hybrids. And certainly it may be preferable to start with seed from heirloom varieties, if you can find them. I have been growing out Florence fennel for several generations of saved seed, some of which originally came to me as hybrids. I have not found any loss of vigor, tenderness, or bulb size what so ever. In fact the plants seem to improve with each successive generation. If you want to save your own seed, select seed from the best plants. Do not save seed from fennel that flowers in winter before making a bulb. Its offspring are unlikely to form bulbs either.

The list of pests that attack Florence fennel is fairly short. Slugs may bother young plants. (You can hand pick the slugs evenings and mornings for fairly effective control.) I lose an occasional mature plant to the gophers. However, fennel doesn’t seem to be the gophers’ favorite food. (Growing in raised beds with hardware cloth or other wire on the bottom of the box works great.) Once they reach a decent size, they have few pests or problems. Slugs tend to leave the larger plants alone – as long as they have some tender lettuce and other yummies to eat instead. Even without protection from gophers I do manage to harvest a few tender bulbs.

Florence fennel meets my criteria for “Real Food.” When fresh, it seems to have a low amine content – making it an excellent choice for those with chronic migraines, anxiety, muscle spasms, high blood pressure, learning disabilities, and other disorders where an inability to process amines may be implicated. It is easy to grow and it produces an ample, tasty crop. It is also easy to prepare and can be used in a variety of dishes. While it is slightly unusual, its flavor is mild. Even the most finicky eater is unlikely to be bothered by a little fennel bulb tucked into soup or casserole. This delectable vegetable is definitely worth seeking out and growing during a season when fresh vegetables are truly welcome.

Copyright 2006 Harvest McCampbell