Saturday, February 25, 2006

Whew . . . Shopping done for another couple weeks

Dear Readers,

I am just beat. Shopped till I dropped - it don't take much. But we are stocked up on groceries for the next couple weeks. So today I just watered my little seedlings. And while I was in town I kept my eyes peeled for shrubs with seeds or berries. I have a strip along the edge of the yard where I have been tossing seeds from shrubs and trees for a number of months. Eventually I hope to have an informal mixed hedge there. I do have a number of misc. seedlings taking hold there. I also am planting a number of tall but short lived plants there, including Fava Beans, Jerusalem artichokes, mullein, fox glove, etc. So I will have some tall short lived things going until the shrubbery takes hold . . .

Anyway, lets see . . . I guess that is about it for today . . . Time to rest . . .

Hope you all had great days.


Friday, February 24, 2006

In the Mail: Johnny’s Selected Seeds

I just received my first catalog from Johnny’s Selected Seeds, and I see what all the raving is about. They cater to back yard and small specialty market growers. The variety is outstanding with a number of rare and unusual varieties. They also offer specialized tools for small growers. These tools range from soil preparation items to specialty crop harvesting tools. Most are geared towards hand work, but will make the work faster and easier.

I found their selections of cucumbers, pumpkins, squash, and greens to be particularly alluring. There were items in each of these categories that I have not seen offered anywhere else. The also offer the usual garden fair from a complete selection of vegetables to flowers and herbs. The catalog is well designed, easy to use, and boasts lovely color pictures. If you haven’t all ready, be sure to check them out at: You can request a catalog from their web page.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

High Rain Fall Can Equal Low Soil Fertility

In natural settings the nutritional needs of plants are supplied through processes of weathering and decomposition. Rocks break down into smaller and smaller particles by the actions of sun, water, and roots. This slow process releases minerals, which are dissolved by rain and other moisture. A portion of these dissolved minerals are ultimately absorbed by the roots of plants and contribute to the fertility of the soil.

The plants take up the dissolved minerals, grow, and are fed on by other organisms. They all in their time eventually die and decay. Through the slow process of decomposition nutrients, minerals, and nitrogen are released once again to the soil and the roots of plants. In natural systems complex inter-relationships conserve and build soil fertility and support the cycling of nutrients. Wild soils support networks of living roots - waiting and ready to absorb minerals as they are dissolved. These nutrients are then cycled through plants and animals until they decay and are again released to the soil. It is a beautiful system that works efficiently and continually in many ecosystems and environments.

This system often breaks down with human interference. In our yards, gardens, and farms we tend to haul off the very substances that would feed our soil. Lawn and garden clippings, prunings, kitchen waste, and animal excrement all contain the nutrients necessary to healthy fertile soil, and we burn it, haul it off, or throw it in the berry bushes. If this wasn't bad enough, we insist on killing the "weeds" that would provide the network of living roots to absorb minerals as they are dissolved. Without this network of living roots, minerals are washed from our soils during heavy rains.

If our soils are not protected, high rainfall can equal low soil fertility. The rain simply leaches the soil of all dissolvable minerals and nitrogen. Plants are left looking washed out and pale. They grow slowly, fail to thrive, produce few flowers or fruit. Gardeners often respond by buying and spreading commercial chemical fertilizers. While these can temporarily green up the landscape they do little to truly improve the health and fertility of the soil. Quite the contrary in fact. These chemical "nutrients" leach readily from our yards and gardens. They enter the water table and travel through the soil to our rivers and creeks. There they contribute to unhealthy algae blooms that threaten the salmon and the very foundations of our natural systems. (And we pay good money to contribute to this harm.)

Chemical fertilizers are like drugs. They interfere with the natural processes of decomposition and soil recycling. They kill the micro and macro- organisms necessary for these processes. The gardener becomes dependent on these fertilizers to produce the bloom, the fruit and the leaf that he or she admires. The soil is no longer able to cycle nutrients in a natural fashion. The system breaks down. But there is another way. (And it is really less expensive, and it is even less work.)

 "Soil is not dirt. It is a living  organism, or rather a collection of organisms, and it must be fed.  Soil both craves life and wants to produce life, even a hundredfold."  Fred Bahson, Soil and Sacrament, page3.

Mulch is a great soil, work, and nutrient saving alternative. Apply a thick enough mulch and weeds are unlikely to grow. Those occasional weeds that do manage to root in your mulch will be easy to pull. Mulch can be laid down around vegetables, flowers, and shrubs. It can cover fallow vegetable beds in winter. All most any organic plant material makes great mulch. Even your most hated weeds, if pulled before they set seed, can be left to dry in the sun, and then recycled as part of your weed protection. Mulch needs to be replenished from time to time. As it decomposes it is improving the fertility of your soil.

Winter cover crops and year around ground covers provide your yard and garden with that living network of roots to capture and recycle dissolved minerals. Clovers are especially beneficial. They fix nitrogen from the atmosphere and substantially increase the soil's fertility. Even those weeds you hate are better than bare soil. Not only does bare soil loose nutrients it is likely to erode, dissolve, and compact without the protection of either living plants or mulch.

Hopefully soon, our weather will warm and dry. We will have the opportunity to take a good look at our yards and landscapes. If when you look around you find your plants are looking washed out, growing slowly, plan on investing in an organic solution. Nitrogen is almost certain to be lacking when plants are pale and growing slow. Composted manures, which can be purchased all ready screened and ready to spread, are a simple solution. Soil amendments that contain composted chicken manure or bat guano are also good sources of nitrogen. All products that are high in nitrogen should be used sparingly. Any dissolved nitrogen that is not taken up by the roots of plants ends up in our creeks and rivers. And that is definitely not a good thing. Too much nitrogen, even from natural sources, can burn your plants and harm the microorganisms in the soil. It is a good idea to use less than you think you need, and apply every week or so until your plants perk up. And then don't forget to mulch and plant clover.

For more information on caring for your lawn, garden, and landscape in a healthful and environmentally friendly way see: "Designing and Maintaining Your Edible Landscape Naturally," By Robert Kourik, published by Metamorphic Press, ISBN 0-9615848-0-7 Distributed by Rodale Press (Your library or bookstore can easily order this for you. I found a copy on the shelf at my local library.)

Clover seeds and sometimes plants are available through many garden catalogs, some nurseries and at most feed stores. Your local feed store is likely to have someone on hand who can help you select the best clover for your situation, soil type, and amount of sun or shade. Clover seed can also be ordered on line from:  (Folks who are allergic to bees, will want to skip the clover and stick with mulch as clover does attract bees.)


Copyright, 2006, Harvest McCampbell. Published by the Hoopa Valley People Newspaper, February 21, 2006.  Posted here with permission

Minor edits and the addition of a quote, 11.18.2016.  Copyright, Harvest McCampbell.  Please feel free to share using the buttons below.  All other rights reserved.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

The Principles of Gardening / A few thoughts

Dear Readers,

I am still feeling a bit under the weather - now I have a mild migraine on top of everything else. But I am at the library returning a book I wanted to tell you a little about.

The Principles of Gardening by Hugh Johnson, Simon & Schuster, New York, ISBN 0-671-50805-9 - This book is practically an encyclopedia all on its own. It starts with a compressive discussion of soil, and ranges from there through various types of gardens, plant types, and a little history. Hugh Johnson is a British national, and is touched by a bit of that wry British humor and also a bit of ethnocentrism when it comes to which types of gardens he thinks are best. There are times I actually found myself wondering if he even thought anyone would read all his words. He disparagingly discusses young boys use of the shrubbery and other asides that caught me off guard.

I found the sections on the soil and plant nutrition to be particularly interesting, as that is something I have been thinking about recently. (I have an article on soil nutrient cycles being considered by the local newspaper.) I found it particularly interesting, and not just from this source, that the British do not seem to be as prissy as we are in the US about what goes into a compost pile. All vegetable, garden, and animal waste seems to be fair game as far as they are concerned.

Well, personally I wouldn't put certain things in the compost pile. I get my hands in the compost, and there are certain things I don't want my hands in. Then there is the problem, especially around here, of attracting animals. Some of the stuff I don't want in my compost pile, I will bury. But once I buried a souring pot of chili, and some animal or other dug it right back up and had it for a midnight snack. Live and learn . . .

Another thing I have noticed in this book, and in other books by British authors, is they tend to bury things in the garden. And while I am definitely not British, I suffer from the same tendencies. I haven't seen any British authors discussing this activity as feeding the worms - which is why I bury all kinds of stuff. But they discuss the soil and nutrient building properties of creating little compost heaps under certain heavy feeding plants.

Not that this particular book is all about vegetable gardens. Quite the contrary in fact. It is more about high brow landscapes and estates. I did enjoy reading the sections on the history of these extravagant gardens and exploring the photos of gardens around the world. I came away with a better idea of the sorts of landscapes that are pleasing and restful, compared to those that are busy and chaotic.

However, they all have their merits and they all evolve. We may start out with a "seed packet riot," but over time the shrubbery grows . . .

Hope you all feel better than me!


Monday, February 20, 2006

Might be making myself scarse . . .

Dear Readers,

I hope you are all feeling great. My shoulder is killing me. I have been busy with the seedlings, and other small chores. Two days in a row I made my favorite garden dish - which involves lots of chopping. That chopping always aggravates my shoulder. Oh well.

My other Internet project, Northern CA Native Events and News: May be taking most of my energy this week. The other moderator is going to be away from his desk, so that means the work all falls on me. Which is cool. It's just that my shoulder limits the amount of time I can spend on the computer . . .

I do hope to post the article I submitted to the paper this week - after it comes out. And I may be able to give you some occasional up dates . . .

Have fun with out me!


Sunday, February 19, 2006

Beer Bash News & Seedling Update.

My goodness . . . I slept till noon, which I never do. And then when I first started to write to you, I remembered that my keyboard needed cleaned badly. The space bar was no longer working on account of the bowl of soup I had spilled into it a few days ago. Thank goodness all it needed was a good cleaning. There are, however, any number of keyboards hiding out in my office. Maybe one of them would have substituted if this one wasn’t revived. Thankfully I didn’t have to figure that out. And thankfully I have regained enough feeling and control with my hands that I didn’t break anything . . .

I have some Internet gardening buddies that are waiting and waiting to hear how the seedlings are all coming along. They e-mail me – but I make them read it here. My poor shoulder and arm still pain me too much to write the same info in separate e-mails.

First the Beer Bash.

Enough of those dang slugs have crawled into the little taverns and drowned that some of the seedlings that had been languishing in the ground are starting to recover. That is a good thing. I have a number of kinds of broccoli, giant walking stick kale, and Florence fennel that are recovering. The larger Brussels Sprouts, Red Russian Kale, and various Chinese greens are also doing better – with less slug damage. With all this garden recovery and slug reduction I bought a second 40-oz bottle of Miller High Life. The stuff smells like piss. I wouldn’t drink the dang stuff back when I went years at a time without a sober moment. And I am damn sure not going to drink any now. It is hard to imagine that any self-respecting slug would volunteer to drown in the stuff. Maybe I should just piss in a jar and see if that would work as well. Ok folks, here is the really weird thing. Instead of dumping out the old dead slug infested beer, I just added more taverns. And, drum roll please, the old bottles with tons of slugs in them are still attracting more slugs than the new taverns with fresh beer. Imagine that. Dead slug brew is more interesting to slugs than fresh Miller High Life. Hmmm . . . Maybe it is actually an improvement. LOL . . . Personally I will never know. If I were in the right frame of mind I could probably come up with some sort of philosophy or another to explain all this. Like maybe addict alcoholics like the risk of self-destruction so much that an almost sure thing is better than something with little risk. Dang and I didn’t think I was in the mood. All I really know, is less slugs are good. From my perspective. (Not from the slugs’ though, I don’t imagine.)

Seedling Up Date:
Here is the first Seedling up-date, in case you want some history:

The Agapanthus is doing well:

There are signs of life in most cells in those 6- 6 packs. The ones that never spent any time on the porch or in the heated tray are definitely doing the best. Also the ones that consistently get the most sun seem to be doing a bit better too. I will try to keep them all arranged towards the sunniest part of the window. Some of the cells have more than one seedling – so in a few weeks if I have empty cells I will separate the more crowded ones and be back to 6 full six packs. (I see at one time I counted that I had 5 – 6 packs. I was mistaken. Counting is one of my problems since the accident.)

Here is the last Agapanthus Up-Date:


Some of them have bit the dust. The Armenian Cucumber was the first to go. The heated tray where I started it, at first, only had one light. It was not enough and the poor thing got leggy, and then broke. I have since gotten another light and things under there are happier. I might not be when I get the electric bill . . . LOL . . . We shall see.

Last night I hit the tub about 8:00 and asked Son to bring in the baby plants. He said he would and then forgot. I didn’t get them in till about midnight, and they had all ready froze. Wonder of wonders the the snake gourd took it and dosen’t even seem to have suffered a set back. It now has one true leaf. The yellow straightneck squash keeled over right away. The Turks Turbin is still alive, but may not make it. Another keeled over cucurbit was the sweet potatoe squash. I started it in the heated tray – and I just don’t think it liked it. I will try again later – when the pourch is warm enough.
Still more failed cucurbits: Buffalo Gourds – they germinated last year – but didn’t make fruit. I have made two attempts to sprout the seeds two different ways this year. So far no luck. I think I will open a newer gourd and try again after bit. Also not germinated are Tiger Melon and Cream of Saskatchewan Watermelon. They are seeds from a seed bank and may be old. I will try again later. Ok last but not least- I have 4 Tinda – from India seedlings. I have not had much luck with these – ever. But I am trying again. The didn’t germinate in a 6 pack cell – so I did the old paper towel in a clear plastic cup trick. Now I got to transplant them into little pots with soil . . .

Misc: Most of the Arugula has been planted out – and is doing great! The Basil is getting its first true leaves. Something is attacking the Blackberry lily still in the six pack –. First I am going to try diatomaceous earth – if that doesn’t work then I will try Tobacco tea. The Bronze Fennel, Brussels Sprouts, and Cabbage are coming along slowly. The Cardoon is planted out and doing poorly. I will try again when it warms up. The Chervil, Cilantro, Columbine, Corn Salad, Coreopsis, Dames Rocket, Egyptian Spinach, and Ephedera are coming along slowly. The Feverfew – wasn’t actually up before – as I reported. But I think it is now. Either that or a weed. The Florence Fennel is almost ready to be planted out. The Garland Chrysanthemum is coming along nicely. The Giant Red Chinese Mustard has been planted out and is doing great. I now have them in 3 different ages. The Italian Parsley is almost ready to plant out. The Kale – 2 kinds, Kohlrabi, Miners Lettuce, & Pak Choy – 2 kinds, are growing slowly. The Pink Peony Poppy bit the dust. I don’t seem to have good luck with poppies –except the CA Native kind. The Purslane, Sweet Autumn Clematis, Sweet Cicily, Tobacco, Vitex, White Butterfly Weed, and White Sprouting Broccoli are coming along. Whew.

Other Seedling News from my Blog:

Here is my seed list, with some germination tips:

Here is how the seedlings fit into my whole garden routine:

I was fussing around with the Seedlings over here – which I also did today: