Friday, December 02, 2011

December in the Garden

Published in the Hoopa People News, Copyright Harvest McCampbell, 2007

December in the Garden

Our old friend Jack Frost has knocked down all but the hardiest of our summer edibles, while clean-up chores call us outside on sunny days. The December garden is full of sweet surprises. Young tender acorn squash hide under wilted leaves. Succulent carrots and onions that eluded us in summer’s raucous abundance reveal themselves as other plants fade. The greatest delight may be cool season greens, self sown where they may, offering leaves both spicy and succulent to brighten up winter plates. While some folks retire from gardening over the rainy season, many vegetables thrive right now. The garden grows at a much slower pace during our cool misty weather, but it also takes much less work. Here’s some information to get you growing!

It’s Time to Plant

From Seed: Many root vegetables do just fine with a December sowing. Raised beds or large containers are a good idea. They allow for drainage and can be a deterrent for gophers. If gophers aren’t a problem, you can choose the sunniest and best drained spot you can spare. Very minimal soil preparation is all that is required. (Care should be taken not to overwork soil in the rainy season—too much mucking around can cause compaction.) Pulling back mulch, removing any weeds or spent plants, and raking the surface to form a rough surface is all that is necessary. Carrots, turnips, scallions, and radishes of all kinds can be broadcast on to the prepared beds or containers. You can cover them with a sprinkling of finished compost if you like, or just let the next rain water the seeds into their bed.

From Starts: Look for scallions, lettuce, corn salad, colorful kales and ornamental cabbage. Lettuce starts are often available in fancy colors and leaf shapes. They can dress up your flower beds as well as your salads. Kale, and ornamental cabbage, as well as the diminutive corn salad will be equally happy in the vegetable garden or the flower bed. If you have a hankering for winter flowers look for hellebores, snapdragons, calendula, and violas of all kinds. Those with flower buds will bloom the soonest.

Other Chores

Mulch: Coarse textured mulch can be a boon to garden beds for several reasons. Bare unprotected soil is subject to erosion and compaction during our rainy winters. A course layer of mulch helps hold the soil in place, while reducing the force of the rain drops. Additionally, it makes a great winter worm habitat. Worms are the work horses of the garden. They recycle organic matter, improve soil texture and tilth, they foster nitrogen fixing bacteria, and their digestive systems reduce the presence of harmful micro-organisms. Worms breathe air and can drown in water soaked soil. A nice coarse mulch that has plenty of air spaces is just what worms need to survive our rainy seasons.

Garden Clean Up: Instead of hauling away all of last summer’s garden debris, think coarse mulch! If you are patient a good pair of garden clippers can be used to reduce stems, vines, large leaves, and twigs into pieces from two to four inches in size. Pile the material up to four inches deep on any unused beds or around perennials. (If any of your plants were diseased or harbored pests, their remains would be better off in the compost pile than on your garden beds.) You should keep mulch a few inches away from the trunks of trees and shrubs, as well as the stems of perennials to reduce the possibility of fungus attacking your living plants. Other than that, all the material from last summer’s garden will work hard to protect and improve the soil for next year’s bountiful harvests.

Gardening News

Orchids, a Practical Guide to Care and Cultivation,” has arrived--hot off the press, just in time for the winter gift giving season. If you are looking for a great gift for the gardener who has everything, this might just be the ticket. Not only is it practical, the flower photos are amazing. Nearly every type of cultivated orchid is included, as well as some that are simply wild. Each entry contains the scientific name, origins, temperature range, light and feeding needs, as well as their flowering season. (By making careful choices you could have orchids in bloom all year.) You will also find a large number of full color photos, showing a selection of cultivated varieties for each genus discussed. Did I happen to mention that the flower photos are amazing? Even if you never plan to grow an orchid you will enjoy browsing through this book. If you have always wanted to grow orchids, whether just a few in a bright room--or lots in a modern green house, the practical aspects of this book will get you on your way. “Orchids, a Practical Guide to Care and Cultivation,” Michael Tibbs, Ball Publishing, ISBN 978-1-883052-59-1

Gifts for Gardeners

Amaryllis bulbs make a great gift, especially for those who can’t get out in the garden during the winter months. These large bulbs are easy to care for and produce plants up to 20 inches tall with blooms up to four inches across in about seven weeks from planting. These large flowers are impressive, and they are available in a number of colors and forms. (If Aunty likes the one you get her this year, next year you can get her one in a different color!) Check them out at: They can be ordered on-line; however, you will likely find them available out on the coast. Many nurseries offer already potted Amaryllis bulbs this time of year. Just remember to keep these beauties inside until all danger of frost has past. The foliage will begin to fade in late summer, when you should stop watering them and let them rest for at least six weeks. Store them in a cool dry place, where they won’t be subjected to frost or rodents. You can begin watering them again anytime after October and have blooms in time for next year’s holidays!

Garden ornaments, statuary, elegant bird feeders, as well as practical supplies and tools can be found at the Gardener’s Supply Company. They not only carry classy items you won’t find anywhere else, a portion of every purchase goes to support their grants and awards programs. The focus of these programs is to provide funds and awards to non-profit organizations which encourage communities to develop sustainable, ecologically sound gardening practices. Check out their web site to shop on-line You will find more information on gardening grants and awards on their “Community Page.” You can also request a catalog or more information by calling 1-888-833-1412.

Thursday, September 01, 2011

September in the Garden

September is a busy time for gardeners. Squash and tomatoes are giving us their all, fall fruit is beginning to ripen, and the last of the berries and peaches beguile us with their transitory but intoxicating flavors. While we are busy cooking and preserving all the bounty, it is also time to plant fall and winter vegetables and plan for the holiday season. Just in the nick of time, here are some tips to help keep it all going smoothly.

First we have a recipe source for late summer’s bounty. Then we will take a look at planting heirloom potatoes for holiday dinners and fall flower bulbs to brighten up late winter and early spring. While we think ahead to the holiday season, we might want to think about the creatures that share our world. The Wildlife Gardener’s Guide is reviewed below. It would make a great gift for anyone who enjoys gardening and wildlife. You can even buy yourself a copy and consider it a gift to the birds and bees that visit your yard. September is a very busy time for gardeners, but it is also a rich, tasty, abundant time. I hope you enjoy it as much as I do.

Diabetes Safe Veggie Recipes:

Those lucky people who have been eating out of their gardens all summer just might be looking for some new recipes. The web site address below features a tasty summer squash side dish. If you click on the link, found below the recipe, you will find many more scrumptious, healthful, and easy dishes—all using vegetables you may already grow. With seasonal produce in mind, you’ll find four recipes that use zucchini and summer squash, including “Colorful vegetable casserole” and “Roasted vegetable and barley salad.” Two recipes use corn in unique ways. There are three recipes for peppers, two for green beans; and one each for cucumbers, tomatoes, tomatillos, and collard greens. While these recipes are designed for diabetics, everyone is likely to enjoy them. You can check the recipes out, (or print them—to give away with your excess produce) at this web site:

If you don’t have Internet access at home, call or visit your local library and sign up to use the public computers.

Russian Banana Fingerling Heirloom Potato Report

The first year I grew these tasty little potatoes, I planted them in a five gallon container. I only had a few starts and I didn’t want the gophers to get them. I started off with about four inches of potting soil, mixed half and half with good garden loam, in the bottom of the container. As the plants grew I added more soil mix. After about three months, I harvested three pounds of the cute little spuds. This year I grew some in the ground, and they also produced three pounds. However, many of the potatoes were clustered along the top of the soil, and they turned bright green. Green potatoes are bitter and they are slightly toxic. If you want to try growing these fun spuds, grow them in a container or keep them well mulched.

Russian Banana Fingerlings range in size from a small child’s finger up to a regular potato, with most of them being on the smaller side. They also tend to have a bit of a curve to them—similar to a bannana, hence their name “Banana Fingerling.” These tasty little spuds are from Russia, and they do best in spring and fall when the weather is cool. They cook up much more solid than russets and dryer than red potatoes, with a pleasant distinctive flavor of their own. While they won’t make good mashed potatoes, they are great for frying or for potato salad, as they hold up a little better than other types. They also do nicely in soups and casseroles, or better yet, scrub them up, rub them with a little olive oil, and throw them on the grill.

When visiting well stocked produce counters look for Russian Banana Fingerlings that have well developed eyes. Plant a few in a pot in a warm spot where you won’t forget them. Move the pot on to the porch this fall, if freezing weather threatens. By mid December, especially if we get a hard frost, the tops of the plants will begin to die back. That’s your clue to dig up your spuds, and fix them up for dinner. Be sure to save a few tubers to plant next spring.

Order Fall Bulbs Now

While it is hard to think about spring when we are so busy with summer’s last gasp, it is time to get out the catalogs and make your bulb selections for next year’s blooms. Flowers are never considered frivolous in the bio-diverse garden. They may only delight our eyes, but many beneficial creatures rely on the pollen and nectar they produce.

Make sure you put some early bloomers on your list. When weather warms up unexpectedly in late winter and early spring, our pollinators and other beneficial insects are lured out of their winter sleep. If they don’t find a nectar and pollen meal they may not survive to be happy garden workers next summer.

Snow Crocuses are usually the first to bloom, followed quickly by species and Dutch Crocuses. Each small bulb produces several flowers, generally one at a time. While each flower only last a day or two, it is quickly followed by a second flower and then a third. They are available in a wide range of colors, and also in mixed lots. They vary in hight from three to six inches tall, and some will bloom year after year. They can be planted along the edges of walk ways, and under deciduous trees, shrubs, and vines. They will bloom before the larger plants leaf out, and then once those plants do unfurl their leaves, they will hide the drying foliage of the resting bulbs. Gophers can develop a taste for crocus, despite what the catalogs may say. If gophers are a problem, you might want to plant your bulbs in containers or prepare shallow hardware cloth cages to bury in the ground and protect your bulbs.

Grape hyacinths begin blooming as the Crocuses fade, and they continue blooming for several weeks. They favor the same spots as the Crocus. There is some good news, as far as I know, no gopher has ever developed a taste for grape hyacinth. Mine keep coming back and they are even fuller and nicer each year. Grape hyacinths are often listed as Muscari, or sometimes as Hyacinths, in the catalogs. If you are looking for flowers that will come back year after year and that attract and nourish pollinators and beneficial insects, make sure the botanical name begins with Muscari, or is identified by “M.” There are varieties that bloom in every shade of blue, from nearly black to nearly white, as well as violet, yellow, and pure white. They range in height from four to twelve inches tall, depending on the variety. Many are fragrant and as an added bonus they thrive under walnut trees, where many plants perish.

If you don’t find the bulbs you crave locally or in your favorite catalogs, McClure & Zimmerman offers a large selection of Crocus and Muscari bulbs. They have reasonable prices, you can shop on line at, or you can request a catalog by calling 1-800-883-6998.

Learn to Attract Wildlife!

Brooklyn Botanic Garden brings us this brand new “All-Region Guide” for attracting wildlife to the garden. You will find special sections on our friends—the beneficial insects and pollinators; as well as song birds, hummingbirds, and butterflies. Ideas abound for special gardens or entire landscapes dedicated to wildlife. For those who don’t really like to get out and dig in the dirt, there are easy projects that utilize great looking plants grown in containers. Regional plant lists make the instructions usable, no matter where you live. An emphasis is placed on using native plants, common flowers, and edible herbs. There are also great tips on understanding the creatures life cycles, so we don’t inadvertently do things that contribute to their demise. This book could turn into a fun family activity and it could fuel many science projects. The Wildlife Gardener’s Guide, by Janet Marinelli, published by Brooklyn Botanic Garden, 2008, ISBN 1-889538-37-2; available by request from bookstores and on-line book retailers.

Published in the Two Rivers Tribune 9.08 Copyright Harvest McCampbell

Thursday, August 11, 2011

August in the Garden

Note, this was written in 2008 in Hoopa CA, while we were experiencing a large forest fire. The effect was cooler temperatures. If your temps are cool enough your tomatoes aren't ripening, you will find useful tips. You will also find recipes for summer squash and starting the fall garden, as well as a quick review on a great little herb book.

Digging the Dirt / August in the Garden

Published in the Two Rivers Tribune 8.08
Copyright 2008, Harvest McCampbell

Gardening in smoke leaves much to be desired. Some plants, however, seem to be making good use of all the carbon in the air. My tomato plants are nearly as tall as I am. On the down side, the smoke has been keeping things too cool for them to ripen up properly. Green tomatoes are not as yummy as their fully ripe counter parts, but they do make good eating. I have been searching for green tomato recipes, just in case. Here are a couple of fun books from the Humboldt County Library that will help you use up any green tomatoes you may have on hand at season’s end.

Preserving Summer’s Bounty, by Rodale Press, has recipes for Green Tomato Chutney and Green Tomato Pickles, as well as lots of recipes for those other summer favorites—squash and Zucchini. In fact, no matter what your garden is producing, you will find recipes and information on preserving it for winter use. The Joy of Pickling, by Linda Ziedrich adds curried and limed green tomato pickles to the possibilities, as well as pickled green cherry tomatoes. Ziedrich has recipes for just about anything you grow, including Jerusalem artichokes and turnips! You can request these books from your favorite library or bookstore. They will definitely get your kitchen creativity stirring.

More Produce in the Kitchen

Squash seems to produce bumper crops no matter what the weather, and this year is no different. Folks will soon be ducking and running when they see their gardening friends hoisting bulging bags. Whether you are growing your own or trying to use the squash that has been foisted on you, here a few ideas from my kitchen. The first uses fresh squash in a sandwich with tuna, and the second makes a refreshing salad.

Summer Tuna Sandwiches or Wraps: Combine grated summer squash, a bit of diced onion and pickle, with a can of tuna, and a tad of mayo. Mix well and then spread on bread or a tortilla, add fresh lettuce or other greens, and serve it up. The pickles I have been using are made with zucchini and summer squash wedges substituted for the cucumbers. I use the dill pickle recipe from the book, Joy of Cooking, (the library has this one too). This sandwich gets rave reviews.

Sunny Summer Salad: Dice up a mix of fresh tender zucchini and summer squash, in different colors if possible. Add a few tender young snap beans and the youngest leaves from kale, mustard, beets, or turnips. Diced peppers, cucumbers, or tomatoes can also be added. For a quick, fresh dressing combine olive oil with a dash of vinegar, and some fresh diced basil, parsley, rosemary, or other garden fresh herbs, shake well and taste. You can add more vinegar or herbs or even some salt and pepper. Pour a little over your fresh veggies and toss to coat. Give it a taste and add more of your dressing if needed. Refrigerate to chill, and then serve on a bed of lettuce. (Add some shredded chicken or browned sausage or tofu and call it dinner.) This easy salad taste even better the second day!

Fall Gardens Start Now

You can have fresh carrots, parsnips, and peas for Thanksgiving if you start soon! You can also grow many greens, root crops, broccoli, cauliflower, and cabbage. Your favorite lettuce, radishes, or beets do great when the weather is cool. Just about the time your summer garden will give out, the fall crops will kick in, keeping you in fresh produce—if you plan it right, not just through the fall, but straight through until spring is here again.

If you have room to put in some new garden beds, you can start fall crops right in the ground this month. Cover seeds with a fine sprinkling of sifted compost or store bought soil conditioner, and keep an eye on your beds. Some people like to lay a board over their rows, to help keep the soil moist. If you give this a try, you will need to lift the board morning and night, to check for germination. As soon as you see seedlings bursting from their seed coats, it is time to remove the board. Seedlings must be kept evenly moist for at least the first week, so check them every morning and evening.

Those already using every inch of space available can start most of their fall garden in six packs. Move the plants to larger containers as necessary, and then tuck them into the garden as soon as a spot is cleared. (Be sure to dig in some compost and top dress with mulch.) The only fall crops this won’t work well for are those we grow for their roots. Carrots, beets, turnips, parsnips, radishes, and rutabagas, to name some of the more popular root crops, do much better when planted where they are to grow. Starting them in shallow containers and then transplanting tends to ruin their comely figures. They are happy growing in half barrels or large containers, and they are safe from gophers if you take that route.

It is time to get out your seed box, seed catalogs, or visit seed counters and see what yummy veggies this fall will bring. If you want to try something new, Wild Garden Seed offers a number of tasty and colorful additions for the fall garden. I am going to try their broccoli, which is named Purple Peacock. This pretty loose headed broccoli has purple stems and leaf veins. All parts are tender and edible, including leaves and stalks. It was rated very highly by Organic Gardening Magazine, for taste, appearance, and winter hardiness.

They also carry Bulls Blood beets, with their electric purplish red leaves. I have some of these started already, but I am going to tuck some seeds into the pots by my front walk, they are that eye catching. I can hardly wait until they get big enough to eat!

Kale is another tasty and nutritious fall crop. Wild Garden Seed offers a number of different types. They also have 53 different types of lettuce, and three different seasonal salad mixes. You can shop on-line: or call them to request a catalog: (541) 929-4068

Ancient Herbs

The J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angles has published a slim but elegant volume for all those passionate about ancient Greece, Rome, and the wonderful world of herbs. Ancient Herbs is a work of art, lavishly illustrated with historic botanical drawings from the late 1700 and early 1800’s. The text provides copious hints on the changing place of herbs throughout human history, as foods, medicines, and flavorings. While you won’t find exact instructions for growing or using herbs, you will find plenty to stir your curiosity and whet your appetite to learn more. This would make a great gift for herb lovers, cooks, and gardeners. The cover is lovely enough to make the book a welcome addition to the kitchen bookshelf and displays of botanical or herbal related art. Ancient Herbs, by Marina Heilmeyer, Published by The J. Paul Getty Museum, 2007, no ISBN