Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Sow Bugs, Earwigs, and Chilean Mesquite!

First the bugs:  

 As a few of you probably know, I recently bought a little place in Lucerne, (Lake County) California.  (Seems there are two Lucerne’s in California.)  Developing a balanced garden ecosystem takes time, and I am definitely not there yet.  In the battle between plants and bugs, in many cases the bugs have been winning.  Sow bugs and earwigs, both beneficial creatures when their populations are in balance, have been turning the leaves of many plants into an ugly imitation of lace.  

I have read and tried a number of organic and non-toxic tactics.  I finally have a success!  I made a "trap" using one tablespoon of molasses and 2/3 cup of water--which I poured into a shallow deli take out container. (The liquid was about 3/4 inch from the top.) I nestled it into the mulch around a plant that has been getting hit hard and added a couple of handfuls of mulch around the edges to provide very easy access. This morning there were probably at least 100 drowned bugs in there!  More molasses traps will be appearing in my yard soon.

Chilean Mesquite:

Creating a garden ecosystem is an effort that takes time and experimentation.  Lake County California has a semi arid climate; worse lately with drought and the solar maximum that is slowly building.  The town of Lucerne also has one of the highest water rates in the country.  Bills for two people households that do no outside watering average around $150.00 (every other month).   Even up in Hoopa, (where most of the posts in this blog originated) and before the solar maximum, I found that most garden plants benefited from filtered shade for at least part of the day.  With this in mind I have been doing some research on trees that would possibly be adapted to the climate here and that would fix nitrogen, carbon, and provide food.  Mesquite crossed my mind as a good candidate.  When a friend of mine reminded me of their thorns, I did a search on thornless mesquite and began reading about Chilean Mesquite.  

I found and ordered seeds on E-bay, and then researched how to germinate them.  The seeds arrived still in sections of their pods. (They are not easy to remove.)  I put about six of the pod sections in a heat proof dish, and then poured boiling water over them. (That was the best plan, according to what I had read on-line.)  The next day, after soaking for nearly 24 hours, I was able to work the meat off the seed capsules, cut through the capsules, and squeeze the seed out.  (It still wasn’t easy.)  

Then, carefully grasping each small seed, I scarified one edge (and my fingernails as well) by rubbing them against a piece of coarse sandpaper.  I was very careful not to damage the pointed end of the seed, where the root would emerge.  The seeds were then placed on a folded paper towel, inside a ziplock bag, and some of their soak liquid was used to moisten the paper towel thoroughly.  I read that they liked to be hot—so I placed the baggy on a warm shelf out on the sun porch, and then brought it into the house over night.  This morning, less than 24 hours later, the first seed is clearly germinating and the rest are swelling and look viable!  At least some of those little seeds will hopefully one day be big trees!  And that is part of what I live for . . .

Happy Gardening!

Sunday, July 08, 2012


Omega 3 has been in the news a lot lately. You may have read about how it helps our health in many ways. Omega 3 is reported to improve brain function; reduce the incidence of inflammation, migraines, and heart attacks; lower blood pressure; and improve immune function.  That is a tall order for a single nutrient; but the reports all seem to have the research to back up their claims. While salmon and other cold water fish are the main dietary source of Omega 3; you can also grow your own right out in the garden.

Purslane is a rich source of Omega 3.  This is great news for those who don’t like fish and don’t want to take supplements. This easy to grow vegetable is also high in potassium and vitamin A and it has less than 30 calories a cup! This tasty and nutritious little plant has been used for food and health nearly all over the world since ancient times.

While many writers indicate that purslane first originated in northern Africa, the middle-east, or Asia; archeological evidence indicates purslane was also used for food right here in the United States as early as 3500 BC. Purslane has been used as a green vegetable and for its soothing properties everywhere it is found. This annual succulent produces tender tasty leaves, especially when it is young. These leaves range in size from about a nickel in the wild varieties up to a quarter in the domesticated types. They can be washed and tossed into salads, mixed vegetable dishes, soups, and casseroles. They have a pleasant tangy taste, reminiscent of French sorrel.  Some people like them enough to steam up a batch and serve it as a side dish.

The domesticated purslanes can also be used in stir fries and tempuras. Purslane dipped in batter and deep fried is a real treat. (Of course, deep frying pretty much negates the health benefits; but once in a while it can’t be too bad.) The larger leaved varieties are also easier to use for salads and cooking. Tiny little leaves and veggies are still the rage, but I honestly prefer something a little easier to work with. Bigger is sometimes better.

‘Tall Green’ or ‘Giant Purslane’ sport leaves up to two inches long, while ‘Golden’ has slightly smaller leaves at an inch and a half. Those pale greens and chartreuses are back in style. If you follow the trends, Golden Purslane will fit right in. Its leaves are even tangier than the darker green varieties, so there are more reasons to grow it than color alone. Whichever type of purslane you decide to grow, they are all fast and easy.

Purslane thrives in hot weather. It can be started any time from late spring, through the summer, and into the beginning of fall. Purslane’s tiny seeds take from ten to twenty days to germinate. Unlike many seeds, which we tuck into the soil, these guys need to be exposed to light. The easiest way to make sure they have what they need is to start them in six packs. Use moist, screened potting soil or seed starting medium. The fine texture is helpful because the tiny seeds are more likely to stay on the soil surface than they would be with courser medium. Sprinkle a few tiny seeds in each six pack cell, and place in a plastic bag in dappled shade until you have small seedlings. Check them every day, and if the soil starts to dry out, take the six pack out of the bag and place it in a shallow dish of water. The soil should easily soak the water up through the six pack drainage holes. This bottom watering will help keep the seeds in place on the soils surface. After draining for a few hours, don’t forget to tuck them back in their bag.

Once your plants are a half an inch or so high, you can remove them from the plastic bag. As soon as they reach two or three inches it is time to plant them out in the garden. They don’t need any extraordinary care. Water them frequently for the first week or two after you plant them out.  Once they are established they will happily stand some neglect.

You can begin picking leaves within a few weeks of planting them in the garden. Just pinch off as many as you want to use. Your plants will continue producing tender leaves for about fifty days, during which time the cultivated varieties will grow from 12 – 24 inches high. Pinch out any of the tiny flowers and seed pods that begin to form to prolong leaf production. Once the plants are bound and determined to flower you will need to decide if you want to pull them or let them set seed. Purslane can self sow; each plant is capable of producing thousands of seeds. It can become a weed under certain circumstances.

No-till, intensive, and well mulched gardens are unlikely to be infested with unwanted purslane. In fact, this year I have no purslane volunteers even though I have had it in my garden for many years. Between the mulch and the shade of other plants the seeds didn’t have the light they needed to grow. For the first time ever, I had to purchase some seeds and start them myself. If you till your garden and maintain exposed soil, purslane will happily colonize your walkways and any open space in your rows. Tilling can bring long dormant seeds to the surface, exposing the seeds to the light they need to grow.   

As a weed, purslane is really not that bad. There is no danger of it crowding out our native plants. It dies off with the first good frost, it prefers disturbed soil, and the seeds can’t take the shade of other plants. It can be weedy in the garden, but it is seldom seen where the soil has not been disturbed. Purslane is easy to pull or hoe, makes great compost, chickens and other livestock like it, and heck, we all ready know it’s nutritious and tasty. 

If you garden like I do, you will either need to purchase new seed each year, or save your own.  The seed capsules have pointed green covers over them that turn straw colored as the seed ripens. Once the seed has ripened the covers easily flick off and the seed can be shaken on to a paper plate or pie pan. Allow the seed to cure in the open air (in doors, away from dew and summer showers) for a few weeks before storing in a zip lock bag or other small container. The seed is tiny so take precautions against it being spilled. If it falls in the carpet you will never find it.  

Purslane starts are sometimes offered for sale through local nurseries and farmers markets. Seeds maybe available at well stocked seed counters, but you are more likely to find them through specialty seed catalogs. If you can’t find the varieties you want to try locally or in your favorite catalog, High Mowing Organic Seeds offers the ‘Tall Green’ and ‘Golden’ varieties: http://www.HighMowingSeeds.com  (802) 472-6174.

Published by The Hoopa People Newspaper 7/07.  Copyright Harvest McCampbell, all rights reserved.

Omega 3: http://2bnthewild.com/plants/H186.htm
Archeological evidence: http://ourworld.cs.com/Aoyuelac/Renee/Paper.pdf
Nutritional information:  http://www.nal.usda.gov/fnic/foodcomp/cgi-bin/list_nut_edit.pl
Photo Credit: Harvest McCampbell 7/07