Sunday, December 10, 2006

Frosty Flowers

Hellebores are some of the toughest winter flowers. They are related to the hardy buttercups that decorate meadows with gold in spring. However, these beauties will produce winter flowers even with a few inches of snow on the ground. Hellebores niger, the Christmas rose, begins blooming in mid to late fall. Once established it will produce flushes of bloom straight through winter until spring. There are varieties with flowers ranging from white, pale yellow, to pink and deep rose. Flowers range from 1-1/2 to 3 inches across. They have a nodding bell like habit that is best displayed by growing in an elevated container. Plants grow about 12 inches tall and spread up to two feet when mature.

Another variety, the Lenten Rose (Hellebores orientalis) begins blooming in mid winter and continues through early spring. These plants are a little taller, from 18 inches up to two feet. They are available in all the same colors as the Christmas rose. They are just as care free and will produce cold season flowers just when you need a reminder of spring.

Consider growing your Hellebores in portable containers. They need shade in summer and winter cold, but they can stand being brought in the house for short periods of time. While the exact timing of their blooms can be a bit fickle, if you’re lucky, you might have blooms to showcase over the winter or spring holidays.

Once the weather warms up these plants tend to go dormant for a few weeks to a month. If you wish to plant them out in the garden, or move them to a larger container, this is the time. A spot with good drainage, summer shade, and lots of organic matter will make them happy. Once they send up new leaves they should be disturbed as little as possible. The buds for next winter’s flower show are hiding, dormant for now, in their attractive green foliage.

Hellebores are bothered by few pests. Even deer, slugs, and gophers are said to leave them alone. The plants are slightly toxic and were once used medicinally in Europe and Asia. While poisoning is rarely reported, they should not be planted where young children, pets, or livestock may be tempted to sample their foliage. If plants can be kept evenly moist and shaded over our hot summers, they should live up to ten years or more. Hellebores will occasionally self sow, and if happy the clumps will eventually become crowded and need divided. Whether you are looking for a unique hostess gift, something to dazzle winter time guests, or something special for a shady corner, Hellebores has a lot to offer.

There are a number of other easy plants that can provide winter time cheer, although few of them are as carefree as Hellebores. When visiting your garden center or nursery keep your eyes open for the following plants in six packs or four inch containers. For a winter show, you need to select plants with flower buds well formed or nearly ready to open.

There are several types of African Daisies that will bloom in winter. An open spot with good drainage or a container or raised bed will make them happy. Make sure the plants you purchase have nice fat flower buds. Most African Daisies are low growing, slow spreading plants. But there are many varieties, so be sure to read the plant labels so you know what you are getting.

Calendula was named for the calendar. It can produce flowers all through the year. Individual plants are short lived, but once you have them established they are reliable self sowers. For best luck with winter flowers, purchase budded plants from the nursery. These bright yellow, orange, and gold flowers like a sunny open spot.

Stocks are an old fashioned flower that can be coaxed into blooming during cool weather. Plant them near a south or west facing wall or fence or better yet, in a container placed on a sunny porch. These flowers only grow a foot or so high and tend to be rather spindly. However they make up for their lack of substance with a heady and delightful perfume.

Snap Dragons are often associated with summer, but if you find plants for sale with fat flower buds, you are in for a treat. New cultivars are available in a number of colors and flower forms including those that resemble azaleas, some with ruffled and double flowers, as well as the traditional snapping dragons. These flowers will tolerate some shade and soggy soil. However they make happier bushier plants when grown in a sunny well drained spot.

We covered Sweet Alyssum in a previous article, but it is worth mentioning again. It is a low growing perennial available in a number of colors. It can be planted at any time, and it will provide several flushes of blooms through out the year. They do best in an area with full sun and good drainage.

Winter time flowers are not really frivolous. They provide nectar and pollen to the good bugs that pollinate our food crops and that help us control pests. So while you beautify your yard, you can feel good about your contribution to the garden’s environment.

Hellebores plants can be ordered from Wayside Gardens: (800) 213-0379 Seeds for Hellebores and all the other plants mentioned are available from Thompson and Morgan: (800) 274-7333

That’s all for now, but stay tuned, next time we will be growing the very delectable winter herb, Sweet Cecily. Meanwhile, you can probably find me out in the garden, Digging the Dirt.

Copyright 2006 Harvest McCampbell, from my column "Digging the Dirt," published in The Hoopa Valley People Newspaper, Nov 7, 2006. Posted here with permission.

Pics, not great:

Maybe a little better:

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Slimy Slugs

Once upon a time a long, long time ago, when my son was just a little boy - he wandered into the house with some slugs crawling around on his hand. I reacted like mothers everywhere are likely to react. With alarm and a loud shrill voice: “Get those ugly slugs out of the house.”

My son responded with the sweet innocence of childhood, “But Mom,” he exclaimed, “their beautiful. All slugs are beautiful.” His expression was of pained exasperation. “See?” He said, as he held them up for me to take a better look. I bent down, with a deep breath, biting my lip, to look at the slimy creatures. He pointed out their finer qualities, “See,” he said, “They have cute stripes down there back, just like chipmunks.”

“I guess,” was about the best reply I could muster, “But they don’t belong in the house. Please take them back outside. And then you need to wash up and come in for lunch.”

Slugs! I suppose they once were an integral part of creation. Food for amphibians and other important members of native food chains. But most of the slugs that hound our gardens originally came from Europe. No one actually brought any slugs over here on purpose. (Unlike snails, but that is a different story.) Slug eggs hiding in containers of soil involved in international horticultural trade were the culprits. It was all done accidentally. Now we have those little gray slugs, the “all slugs are beautiful” striped guys, and those giant reddish ones. We can hardly even imagine what it was like to garden without them. (I really want to garden without them!)

While I don’t really agree with the idea that all slugs are beautiful, I have learned to accept the fact that they are not all bad. I like toads, frogs, and salamanders. They think slugs (at least the smaller ones) are pretty yummy. And then there is the Leopard Slug. This guy is us gardeners’ hero. He is a carnivorous creature: his favorite prey is other slugs. Hurrah! Here is a web site where you can get a good look at this awesome guy: (Scroll down on the page, the second pictured leopard slug looks like the ones found in our local gardens.)

A few slugs in the garden, even the herbivore kind, can actually be beneficial. They help clean up decomposing plant matter and participate in the soil nutrient cycle. If they only nibble a little on the edges of your garden plants, your plants will respond by making more anti-oxidants – and that is good for you. But slugs in the garden often get out of hand. Their reproductive habits are odd and efficient. (The dang creatures are hermaphrodites, each party to the pro-creative act slither off to lay hundreds of eggs.) And modern gardeners may be caring for their yards and gardens in ways that discourage slug predators.

Amphibians are some of the most efficient slug predators around. They will happily devour young slugs by the dozens, nearly every day of the year. To insure our friends the toads, frogs, and salamanders make permanent homes in our gardens we must first attend to some of their basic needs. Just like us, they need shelter and water, in addition to their slimy dinners. Broad leaved evergreen shrubs, pruned to begin branching within 3 – 4 inches of the ground make great amphibian habitat. Check out friends, neighbors, and relatives yards. You are sure to find some interesting plants that you can try to start from cuttings or seeds. Or if you want to try something a little different check, with your local nursery. We will explore more information on amphibians in the garden in a future article. But in the mean time, there are other creatures that will be happy to eat slugs, if you know how to keep them happy in your garden.

Soldier and Ground Beetles, are voracious predators when it comes to young slugs and slug eggs. The larval stages live in the soil and might be mistaken for other types of grubs. These creatures thrive where there is plenty of organic matter and a nice mulch of coarse sticks and twigs. As adults they also need a good supply of pollen to fuel their hunt. They are partial to pollen from some common garden weeds and wildflowers including milkweed, wild lettuce, golden rod, amaranth, and evening primrose. They also like Hydrangeas, which is nice, because they do thrive in our area and varieties can be selected to provide a long bloom time.

For these beneficial insects to thrive and help control your slugs, you will want to have a variety of blooming flowers and weeds through out the growing season. Check out your local nursery in different seasons, and carefully read plant descriptions in your favorite garden catalogs. Choose a mix of spring, summer, and fall blooming varieties, particularly from the plants listed above. Then after they have bloomed and set seed, you can spread the seed around where you would like to see more of them grow. The old stalks can be cut into 2 – 4 inch sections and used as mulch, to shelter the young beneficials.

Meanwhile, you say, what about the four inch slugs sliming around my garden right now? My best suggestion is to hand pick them, first thing in the morning or last thing at night. You can use a recycled plastic bag as a glove, and stash them in another recycled bag. If you know anyone with ducks or geese they might welcome these icky guys. Some folks drop them into salt water, but then you have to dispose of that. And salt is not good for our soil. I tend to seal them up in the bag and toss them in the trash, lamenting that all that good nitrogen is being removed from my soil nutrient cycle.

Two types of slug killing products on the market are billed as safe and organic. One type is the iron phosphate slug bait. While this product is safer than the more toxic traditional slug baits, it will still harm other creatures that eat it (contrary to advertising and press releases). And the slugs that survive the treatment become immune – and continue to reproduce. The other type of product is a “beneficial” nematode. These microscopic creatures parasitize ground dwelling creatures and eventually cause their demise. However, there is growing suspicion that they can parasitize people. Science has yet to prove or disprove this, but a growing number of people suspect these nematodes to be at least part of the cause of Morgellon’s Disease. This disabling, disfiguring, and painful condition is on the rise and found mostly in elderly people, chronic drug addicts, and those with impaired immune systems. If you are considering using a pesticide product, even a natural ‘safe’ product, please read the label thoroughly before you decide. Personally, I will stick with handpicking and annoying the neighbors by letting the weeds go to seed.

Ornamental varieties of most of the plants listed above can be found at many nurseries. If you’re local nursery doesn’t have the varieties you want, check out Forest Farm: (541) 846-7269. They carry over 70 different kinds of Hydrangeas, 3 types of milkweed (Asclepias), and five types of evening primrose (Oenothera). Thompson and Morgan offers 7 types of ornamental Amaranthus seeds as well as 1 type of milkweed (Asclepias), and 4 types of evening primrose (Oenothera). (800) 274-7333.

That’s all for now. Stay tuned, next week we will be getting ready to grow Lenten Rose and other winter bloomers. Mean while, you can probably find me out in the garden, Digging the Dirt.

Copyright 2006 Harvest McCampbell, from my column "Digging the Dirt," published in The Hoopa Valley People Newspaper, Oct 21, 2006. Posted here with permission.

(And here is a pic of the icky guy himself:

Friday, December 01, 2006

The Living Clock

Book Review

The Living Clock, The Orchestrator of Biological Rhythms, by John D. Palmer, published by Oxford University 2002.

Gardeners and nature enthusiasts will find lots of interesting and entertaining reading in the initial chapters. The author is a scientist who knows how to write and has a sense of humor. I especially enjoyed chapter 1, which discussed rhythms found in several pretty amazing single celled creatures. This discussion is picked back up again in chapter 5. Chapter 8 will fascinate gardeners with very interesting findings about plant movement. Day and night length triggers for plant growth and flowering is also discussed. You may actually be surprised about what has been found.

There are chapters devoted to human concerns, such as jet lag. Medications and lab tests that work better at different times of day are also discussed, as well as basic human rhythms. Some of the research results explored are not commonly reported and were definitely new information to me.

Palmer goes on, in a few more chapters, to talk about rhythms in animals and in shore dwellers. It is all quite fascinating and his sense of humor is refreshing. But the honeymoon is over at the end of chapter 8.

Chapter 9 made me think of young bullies I knew as a child. You know the ones I am talking about. Those deranged children that torture small animals for their own pleasure and to intimidate and traumatize those around them. “Hey, let’s shove a firecracker down this snake’s throat and then light the fuse, so we can see what will happen.” When children torture animals it is a red flag. Many serial murders, kidnapers, and abusers started out as children who tortured animals.

I guess the better adjusted animal tormenters grow up to be scientists. Palmer in the same articulate and humorous manner, goes on to describe the all grown up and degreed version of “Hey, let’s shove a firecracker down this snakes throat and then light the fuse, so we can see what will happen.” Except it plays out more like, “Hey, lets cut through some brain tissue of this living creature and see what happens.” I was rather horrified at his description of some animals he kept alive in the lab for what was probably a few months, and after they had been mutilated and left in a condition that would make it very difficult to survive the oceans tide and surf, he released them to those very conditions. And he joked about it. Don’t read chapter 9 before bed. Better yet, don’t read chapter 9 at all. And don’t buy this book. This guy doesn’t deserve royalties, and you certainly don’t need it lying around where young children can find it. (I checked it out at the library – if you want to read it you can too.)

Lately I have been feeling pretty ambivalent about my Native Heritage. In fact I could be quoted as saying “I don’t want to be Indian anymore.” (My friends just laughed at me, but I am not sure I was joking.) But this book put a different focus on my thoughts. I was raised with the idea of the Great Mystery. The idea that some things are just not meant to be understood. Creation is sacred, all around us are our relatives, and all living things deserve respect. I was taught as a very young child to learn from nature by observation, that deep patient observation brought wisdom and connection. I am a work in progress. (Yes, even at 50.) But as I move towards belonging to an inter-racial community of thought, I am pretty dang sure I will carry these basic teachings with me.

Science has become the new main stream religion in many ways. Science tends to get what it wants, above and beyond what any other values may dictate. But what is science really? Maybe you ought to read chapter 9 after all. Just in case you haven’t realized how ugly science can be.

Now I need to go purge my soul by getting my hands in the soil.

Other Book Reviews:

The Literary Garden

We Didn’t Have Much, But We Sure Had Plenty

Gardens in the Dunes

Book Mentions:

The Principles of Gardening

The Emergence of Agriculture

Save Your Own Seed

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Fabulous Favas

These Mediterranean natives are one of the most ancient old world beans. Dating back to the Bronze Age, archeologists found their remains in the ruins of the storied city of Troy. Now, over 6,000 years later they are still enjoyed in the Mediterranean and all over the world.

Cuisines of the world feature the versatility of these fabulous beans. In the Azores they like to shell the green beans, and then split and fry them. Burmese folks like the fresh shelled beans in salads. You often find parched dried favas in Chinese snack mixes. The Dutch and Danish use the dried boiled beans in soups. Egyptians like to drain the boiled beans and serve them with olive oil, garlic, and lemon – yum! And the French use the immature beans, pods and all, much like green beans are served in North America. You don’t have to go far to find ethnic recipes for fava beans. A simple search on the Internet with the country of your choice, a slash, the words “fava beans,” another slash, and the word “recipes,” ought to turn up plenty. (IE: Germany / fava beans / recipe) You can even find recipes for the edible leaves! ("Fava Leaves" / recipes) But you might not have to go as far as the Internet. If you have a collection of ethnic, gourmet, or garden related recipe books, you probably already have lots tips just waiting to try.

Fava beans are tasty and nutritious. The young pods are a good source of fiber, folate, phosphorus, and potassium. They also contain essential fatty acids, beta-carotene, protein, and vitamin C. For you dieters out there, they are also low in calories! The mature shelled beans are considered a good source of choline (necessary for proper brain function), as well as protein, fiber, and carbohydrates. They also contain substances called protease inhibitors, which are said to help block the absorption of carcinogens from the intestinal track. Either way you go young green pods or dry beans – favas are low in fat and contain no cholesterol.

Fabulous favas are also considered medicinal. They contain a substance called levodopa, which the body uses to manufacture dopamine. (Dopamine is necessary for proper brain function.) Because of this boost, some people find favas to be a very energizing food. There is some evidence that they may be helpful for people with Parkinson’s disease. However, if you have problems digesting or utilizing proteins or amines, if you are taking MAOI medication, are prone to food allergies, or suffer from chronic migraines - fava beans might not be for you. For more information ask your doctor and see:

While favas may not belong on everyone’s plate, these cool season favorites are still worth growing. They provide greenery and flowers at a time of year when the garden tends to be bleak. The flowers attract beneficial insects, and the plants produce both nitrogen and carbon to improve our soils.

Fava beans grow from 2 – 6 feet tall, depending on the variety. They don’t need staked, unless you live in high wind areas, and they are bothered by few pests. Gophers may help themselves to a few plants. So be sure to get yourself some cats, plant other things the gophers like to eat, or grow your prized favas in a raised bed. In the spring fava beans sometimes become infested with aphids. But by then it is usually to late for the aphids to harm your crop. Favas set their seed very early while the weather is cool. So you can just ignore the aphids if you like. (I do.)

If you are ready to get your own fava beans started, first you will have to track down some seeds. You can ask at your local nursery, farm, or feed store. If you purchase your seed from a farm or feed store, be sure to let them know you will be growing the seed for human consumption. Another likely source of Fava beans you can grow are the bulk bins at local grocery, health, or ethnic food stores. However, if you are patient, have a little more money to spend, and really want to know what you are getting – consider ordering seeds from Territorial Seed Company, or another seed catalog.

Territorial Seed offers 3 types of Fava Beans - Aquadulce, Sweet Lorane, and Broad Windsor. Aquadulce plants reach about 3 feet tall, and produce small clusters of cool gothic flowers in white and black. They performed well in my Hoopa garden last winter. Each plant produced at least a dozen long fat pods with 6 – 8 large beans each. Sweet Loranes only grow to about 3 feet high and are a small seeded type Fava. Their beans are a pretty glossy reddish brown. Broad Windsors (sometimes sold as Windsors) grow 4 – 5 feet tall, produce clusters of white flowers with rose or mauve colored veins, followed by fat pods filled with light colored seeds.

To get the most out of your Fava bean crop you might want to try using a rhizobia bacteria inoculant. This bacteria forms a symbiotic relationship with the Fava bean root system and increases nitrogen fixing. These bacteria are very efficient at absorbing nitrogen from the air and soil and they change it to a form that is more bio-available. Inoculated plants grow better and produce larger crops. At the end of the season when their remains become compost or mulch, they provide a nitrogen boost to your soils. While the inoculant doesn’t come free, it does pay dividends if you protect your soils nutrient cycle with mulch, worms, and cover crops.

Unless you are planting a whole field you will never use all the inoculant in the package in one season. (However, the inoculant will also boost productivity of your other beans and peas.) Keep your inoculant in a sealed container in the fridge. Make sure you mark the container so no one thinks it is food. I have a special compartment in the fridge set aside for gardening supplies and cold treated seeds. That way no one gets confused about what is food and what isn’t.

Fava beans can be planted anytime starting right now - through early spring. Keep in mind, that they like it best when the weather is cool. These guys are easy to grow. I like to presoak the beans for a few days. I usually soak 10 beans at a time, in about 1/3 cup of water to which I have added a couple of pinches of inoculant. After the beans begin to swell, I plant them out where they will grow, about ½ inch deep and 8 inches apart. Any of the soaking liquid that was not absorbed by the beans gets poured in the planting holes. Then I start over again with ten more seeds. If you’re in a hurry to plant lots you can simply moisten the seeds, stir in some inoculant (if you like), and broadcast over your prepared beds. No rototilling is required, simply mow or rake last years garden debris out of the way, use a digging fork to loosen the soil, and toss your seeds over the beds. It is really that simple, and now that the rains have started – you won’t even have to irrigate!

If you would like to order seeds or inoculant on line or by phone check out Territorial Seed Company: (800) 626-0866 For recipes and photos see:

That’s all for this week, but stay tuned, next week we will be finding ways to cope with the dread of north west gardens – those slimy slugs. Meanwhile, you can probably find me out in the garden, Digging the Dirt.

For more cool season crops see:








Red Japanese Mustard:


Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Winter Cover Crops

Cover crops offer many benefits to soils and gardens. They protect soil from the compacting and dissolving force of the rain. They provide shelter for worms who might otherwise drown in our rain soaked soils. They supply home grown organic matter, which builds humus, improves soil tilth and texture, feeds worms and micro-organisms, and supports the soil nutrient cycle.

Cover crops also protect soil fertility levels by utilizing nutrients that could be leached into sub soils and aquifers and find their way, as pollutants, into our water ways. Soil nutrients bound in living plant material is not subject to leaching. In addition, by carefully selecting the cover crops, you can improve your soils carbon and nitrogen content.

Carbon is essential to the life of soil micro-organisms and the soil nutrient cycle. It is especially useful if you have noticed that plants in your garden tend to have weak stems and trail, sprawl, or lean when they should be upright. (Weak stems can be a sign of carbon impoverished soils.) Carbon is produced in abundance by the following easy to grow cover crops: agricultural mustard, flax, fodder radish, tyfon, winter oats, rice, rye, as well as winter triticale and wheat. As soon as your summer crops are through producing, you can cut them off at ground level and rake them into a compost pile (or turn them under) and broadcast your rows or beds with the carbon crops of your choice. (Cover crops should be sown thickly. You want the plants to inter-grow to protect the soil.) The carbon that these plants provide is extracted from the air, so you can congratulate yourself on doing something small to help with the greenhouse effect and global warming! Many of these plants will also produce edible greens or seeds, in addition to improving your soil.

Agricultural mustard, fodder radish, and tyfon can all be eaten in soups or sautéed with garlic and onions for an old fashioned dish known simply as “a mess of greens.” They are good sources of beta-carotene, folic acid, and calcium. (You can improve your own health while you improve the health of your soil!) Once these cover crops go to seed, if you let them grow that long, the seed can be threshed and used to grow spicy sprouts that will enliven your spring and summer salads. These same seeds can be used to flavor pickles, cracked to make a spicy seasoning for savory breads, and ground and mixed with vinegar to make dark flavorful mustards.

Flax, oats, rice, rye, triticale, and wheat seeds are also edible. They can be used whole, in mixed grain dishes, sprouted for salads or sandwiches, or ground and used in baked goods. If you want to try eating your grain, be sure to choose those that “resists lodging” if available, and definitely avoid those prone to lodging. (Lodging is a term used to refer to the plants dropping the grain.) Also look for varieties that are hull-less or easily threshed. Don’t expect to get a lot of grain from your garden, but it is a fun experiment to try which children, and it helps everyone understand how their food is produced. Dried grain seed heads are also fabulous for crafts. They don’t need to be hull-less or easily threshed for use in flower arrangements, wreathes, and so forth, so you can choose decorative colors or long awned grains if you like.

The other option in cover crops is to focus on nitrogen fixing plants. A variety of legumes are available that pull nitrogen right out of the air. If plants in this year’s garden grew slow, seemed smaller than normal, or if the green colors seemed faded out, nitrogen fixers might be just what you need to perk your soil back up. A number of types of clover, and vetch are available for cover crops. Low growing white and red clovers can be broadcast under summer crops now, or you can wait until the beds are cleared or turned and then broadcast the seeds. The Sweet Clovers are a nice option for cleared beds, as they also produce a lot of carbon and organic matter, and will reward you with sweet smelling flowers in late winter and early spring. As they are slow growing, it is a good idea to mix them with agricultural mustard or other clovers to best protect your soil from early rains.

If you want to grow a mix of carbon and nitrogen for your garden, add some Austrian field peas to your carbon crops when you sow the seed. Austrian field peas happily inter-grow with other plants. They produce small cheerful sweet pea type flowers and their seeds can be used in soups. Another choice, bell beans, are miniature fava beans that do well in winter. These beans do not need staking or trellising. They produce both nitrogen and carbon. And like other beans, the immature pods, as well as the mature beans are edible. To best protect your soil bell beans should be inter-grown with red or white clover.

Cover crops are pretty easy, you just choose your seeds, minimally prepare your ground, and broadcast the seed fairly thickly. You can cover the seed with a sifting of compost, leaf mould, or a purchased soil amendment. If this is not practical, and you have turned your summer crops under, you can rake the seed in. For a third option , you can simply cut or mow your summer rows, and wait for the next rain. Seed broadcast while it is raining are fairly safe from marauding birds. The action of the falling water settles the seed into crevices in the soils surface, and the moisture helps it germinate quickly. Then you just let nature take its course. (Cover crops can be cut or mown during the winter to keep their height down, if you choose. But it is not necessary.) Next spring you will have to decide if you are going to let your cover crops mature for their seed, or if you will cut or turn them under as soon as you are ready to plant your spring garden. That mostly depends on how much space you have. Either way, your winter cover crop will provide you with ample material for composting and mulching. Your soil and the creatures that live in it will thank you.

Check with your local farm supply or feed store for recommendations on the varieties best suited to your area. If you would like more information visit Bountiful Gardens On-Line: or call (707) 59-6410 to request a catalog. They have seed for all the varieties mentioned in this article, and many other choices.

That’s all for now, but stay tuned, next time we will be getting ready to grow some of the yummy giant fava beans. Until them, you can probably find me out in the garden, Digging the Dirt.

Copyright 2006 Harvest McCampbell, from my column "Digging the Dirt," published in The Hoopa Valley People Newspaper, Oct 17, 2006. Posted here with permission.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Fall Greens

Young Kale and Mustard plants sown in the fall.
Many edibles practically care for themselves during fall and winter. Cilantro, lettuce, fennel, mustard, chard, and kale, among others,  love the weather ahead. Cool moist temperatures, and lots of rain bring us sweet delicate greens for our fall and winter soups and salads. Now is the time to get these delectables growing, if you can just find the space.

Cool season greens are lovely to look at, especially as fall grows old and winter comes to visit with its cold, grey, and stormy days. Lettuce can look quite perky when the rest of the garden is bedraggled by rain. It is available in all shades of green from very pale to very deep. There are varieties with speckles, and splashes of purple or red, and other varieties that boast deep red or purple leaves. All these colors of lettuce come in a variety of leaf forms from the large simple leaves of romaine to frilly butter crunch and lacy oak leaves. No room in the garden? A few pots or containers growing lettuce will look attractive on a patio or porch!

If you have a large pot (or an empty spot in the garden or flower bed) Red Giant Mustard would make a dramatic back drop for the smaller and more delicate lettuce plants. Or if you like the red and purple lettuce types, Giant Southern Curled Mustard (also called Green Wave) with its pale green leaves would make a fitting back ground for your fall container garden. Swiss chard is another interesting plant that will eventually grow quite tall, and the newer hybrids come in a multitude of stem and leaf vein colors.

Fall sown mixed mustards growing like crazy with the longer days of spring.
 There are also many lovely types of kale, in a variety of colors and leaf shapes. While they start out small and delicate - many grow up to make large interesting plants. Look for Red Russian Kale, Red Bore, or Dinosaur Kale. The young leaves of all these plants make good additions to salads, the older leaves are great for soup, and the plants make a dramatic statement in a pot or out in the garden.

Cilantro and fennel both love cool wet weather and they will thrive in the garden or in containers on a bright porch or patio. They add flavor to winter salads and soups, as well as a delightful fragrance to the air. Their lacy leaves also add textual interest to the garden or groups of container plants.

Fragrant and tender Fennel!

There are several steps to creating an attractive fall container garden, not the least of which is collecting your containers. Folks with ample budgets can find many new decorative containers at nurseries and garden centers, as well as original pieces from galleries and antique stores. The rest of us can be content with second hand and dollar store finds or recycled items from around the house.

Empty coffee, juice, and other large cans (at least 3 inches in diameter), make great containers for growing greens. You can also cut the tops off of empty plastic containers (such as milk and juice jugs, soda and water bottles, soap and bleach containers) and use them as containers. Make sure to thoroughly wash any residues from containers that contained household supplies. You can use a hammer and nail or a can opener to make drainage holes on the bottom of cans, or a sharp knife or awl for plastic containers. (Be careful!) Next add a few rocks to improve drainage and keep your container from getting top heavy as your plants grow. Save your largest containers for giant mustards, Swiss chard, kale, or cabbage. Cabbage doesn’t get as tall as the rest, but it needs lots of room for its roots. (And it is available in a number of attractive colors and forms.)

Next you will need to supply your snazzy new containers with some potting soil. Your local nursery can make recommendations for you, or you can make your own. If you don’t have finished compost or access to leaf mould, a simple fall potting blend can be made, starting with dry leaves. You want crisp leaves that crumble into small bits when scrunched or rubbed between your hands. Old corn or squash leaves and leaves that have fallen from your trees are all possibilities. If they aren’t crisp enough yet, spread them out on a tarp or old sheet and leave them in a sunny spot. Turn or stir them once a day until they crackle and crumble when you crush them. (If rain threatens you can move them into the shed or garage until we get a sunny day.) Two parts crumbled leaves, two parts sand, and one part garden soil is a good starting recipe. If you mix up at least a gallon’s worth, you can add a handful each of used coffee grounds (for nitrogen) and wood or paper ashes (for minerals) and you are ready to get growing.

If seeds are not your thing, check out the plant starts available at nurseries and hardware stores. Many types of lettuce, kale, cabbage, and other fall greens are available right now. Simply plant them in your containers, keep them moist (but not soggy) and cool until the young plants start to grow. Once you see some new growth forming, gradually move them to the sunniest spot on your porch or patio and watch them thrive.

Fall greens are easy to start from seed. It's not too late unless your ground may freeze solid,or if you will get a heavy blanket of snow. You can plant a few seeds directly into the potting soil, according to the directions on the packets. Seeds and young seedlings will need to be kept evenly moist until they are established, and then you can enjoy their colors and fragrance, both on the patio and in the kitchen through the blustery months ahead.

Seeds are available at many hardware, health food, and grocery stores. If you don’t find what you are hoping for, check out Territorial Seed: (800) 626-0866. They have a nice selection of lettuce, spinach, chard, mustard, and cabbage varieties, and they have fennel, cilantro (listed under coriander), as well as a mixed packet of colorful kales that I would love to try.

If you are searching for seeds on a budget, don’t forget to check with friends, relatives, and neighbors who garden. Many people save their own seed, and others are unable to use all they purchase. Gardeners are usually happy to share when they have more than they need. And you might just make their day by asking. Most gardeners love to show off their gardens and share their tips to success.

Copyright 2006 Harvest McCampbell, from my column "Digging the Dirt," published in The Hoopa Valley People Newspaper, Nov. 10, 2006. Posted here with permission.

Edited and photos added, 11.13.2016.  Copyright Harvest McCampbell.  Please feel free to share via the buttons below.  All other rights reserved.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Companion Planting

Not all that long ago, companion planting was looked on as a sort of a fringe ‘science,’ more related to moon worshipers than to serious gardeners. When I first heard about the practice I was in my early 20’s and it greatly appealed to me. The basic premise of companion planting is that some plants actually like to be near each other, while at the same time, there are plants that actually despair in each other’s company. The idea of plants having a soul, of liking and disliking each other, even at the species level appealed to my young sense of idealism.

Companion planting arose out of ancient and on going observations that clearly pointed to some plants doing better (or worse) when growing in the presence of certain other plants. Perhaps it is anthropomorphism to describe these affinities as likes and dislikes, but we humans tend to describe almost everything from our own perspectives. So here ya go: In this view carrots are said to like onions and peas. While potatoes are said to dislike sunflowers and walnuts. Perhaps you have noticed that some of your plants like or dislike being too close to your favorite shrubs or trees. There are actually some explanations that serious gardeners can understand.

While some of the more mysterious effects plants have on each other occur on a molecular level down in the root zone, a lot of it starts in the leaves. Plants absorb carbon dioxide through their leaves, and depending on the species, to a greater or lesser extent they can also absorb nitrogen, sulfur, and other compounds right out of the air. These compounds are used to for the plants life processes, to form vitamins, phytochemicals, essential oils, anti-oxidants, etc. Any absorbed compounds in excess of what the plant needs are sent through the plants vascular system down into the roots. Here is where the real magic begins to happen.

Plant roots secrete a very subtle, moist, jell like substance, a few millimeters into the surrounding soil. Through this substance they exert a profound effect on soil chemistry. This jell is rich in plant produced compounds, and one of its chief roles is to nourish soil micro-organisms that fuel the soil nutrient cycle. It is in this zone that the cation and ion exchanges between the roots, soil organisms, and mineral and humus particles are unfolding. The plants exchange excess carbon, oxygen, and other compounds they have absorbed through the air, or that they have stored in their tissues - for soil and humus bound nutrients that are necessary for their lives. They are also capable of secreting their own home made chemicals that effect the plants growing around them. And they definitely do this, some of them all the time, and some only if the need arises.

Lets imagine a place, like Hoopa, where day time temperatures and night time temperatures can be as much as 50 degrees different, and are often as much as 30 degrees different. This temperature difference is pretty hard on many plants. Plants vascular functions are tied to something called the evapo-transpiration rate. This is fueled by air temperature, and our large temperature differences cause an extra stress on plants. This can create a situation where plants may need more soil borne essential nutrients than is commonly expected.

Now, lets continue to imagine these plants are growing in a place, like Hoopa, where the rain fall is often over 30 inches a year. Perhaps they are growing out there in our yards right now, after a very wet year of nearly 60 inches of rain. As we discussed in a previous article, when rain fall is up, soil nutrient levels can be down. (The cure is organic matter – but it is not a quick fix.) What on earth is a poor plant to do. He can’t move to a different neighborhood, so he endeavors to change the neighborhood.

Some plants have adapted to survive rigorous conditions by either improving conditions for the entire plant community or by attacking the rest of the plant community. They do this, in part, by the chemicals they exude from their roots. These chemicals can improve the bio-availability of soil minerals, or they can inhibit germination of seed, inhibit growth of neighboring plants, or in extreme cases, they can be down right toxic to the plants growing near them. (These selfish plants want to keep all the soil nutrients for themselves.) While science can explain the generalities, it can’t explain what is going on out there in your garden. Because it is all too complex and variable.

What chemicals a plant will produce and exude and how adaptable the surrounding plants are is dependant on a myriad of things that change from time to time and place to place, even inside a single garden. So what’s a gardener to do? First and foremost, trust your own observations. If you have plants that get along just fine, while a book or magazine article claims they don’t, ignore the article. What they are saying may be true in a different soil or climate – but if it works in your garden, who cares.

If on the other hand your petunias (for instance) won’t grow for nothing, but your neighbor’s petunias thrive, look around to see if you might have shrubs or plants that could be inhibiting growth. Look for something growing near your petunias that isn’t found in your neighbors yards. And then adapt. Try planting your petunias far away from your sunflowers, corn, or walnut trees, for instance. Or grow them in raised beds or containers. If all else fails, just claim you are a moon worshiper and don’t have the petunia mojo and grow four o’clocks instead.

Some plants are so good at making growth inhibiting chemicals that they not only exude them from their roots, the exude them from their leaves, they permeate the very tissue of their stalks and branches, and upon decomposition of those leaves the chemicals permeate the soil. However, for every plant that specializes in poisoning other plants, there are a dozen that specialize in thriving anyway. By your own observations and experimentation you will discover which plants make the best companions for the specimens in your own garden, and that is knowledge you can pass down.

In the mean time, when you hear long time local gardeners talking about plants that like or don’t like each other, pay attention. That is the companion planting advice that is most likely to hold true in your gardens. You can smile in reply and say “Yes, it is all because of some magical stuff that happens way down in the dirt.”

For more information ask your book store or librarian to recommend some titles or see: Soul of the Soil, by Grace Gershuny (Chelsea Green Publishing), and Designing and Maintaining Your Edible Landscape Naturally by Robert Kourik (Metamorphic Press).

Stay tuned, next time we will be getting ready to plant our fall greens. Meanwhile, you can probably find me out in the garden, Digging the Dirt.

Copyright 2006 Harvest McCampbell, from my column "Digging the Dirt," published in The Hoopa Valley People Newspaper, Sept. 26, 2006. Posted here with permission.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006


Rutabagas, which are also called Garden Swedes, are one of my very favorite vegetables. Fresh from the earth they are sweet, crisp, and flavorful - right up there with gophers will love them as much as you do.

Rutabagas benefit from loose soil that has been dug and crumbled to at least 6 inches deep. Adding compost, leaf mould, coffee grounds, or other fine worms, and your future crop. Once the beds or containers are prepared, seed should be broadcast or planted in shallow furrows. Cover the seed lightly with compost, planting mix, or sand, and keep the beds evenly moist until the young plants are established and the rains begin. Seedlings should begin emerging in a week to ten days. They can be thinned to stand about 2 inches apart. Once your plants are about 6 – 8 inches tall you can thin them to stand 4 – 6 inches apart. The thinnings, roots, tops, and all can be added to salads, soups, or casseroles. Along about the middle to end of December you should be able to pull some decent sized roots. And you are in for a treat.

While the rutabagas from the grocery store are pretty dang good, they are nothing compared to your own fresh produce. These guys can be steamed, mashed, baked, or even fried. I like them the very best cut into quarters and stashed in the pan with a pot roast, or a chicken or turkey. Slow roasting brings out the sweetness to its best advantage and enhances the flavor of the roots, the broth, and the main course. The leaves can be steamed or sautéed in some olive oil with a bit of garlic and served as a side dish.

Cream of rutabaga soup makes a great winter comfort food. Simply scrub up your roots, (reserving the tops), cut the roots into chunks, place in a sauce pan with just enough water to cover, and simmer till tender. Then drain the water from the roots, and save it in a bowl or other container. Use a paring knife to remove any roots or tough places on the skin, and then place the roots in the food processor and whiz. Add some of the reserved cooking water as necessary to correct the consistency. Return your puree to the pot, and slowly reheat. Add some of the chopped greens if desired and salt and pepper to taste. You can also add a bit of olive oil or butter, and if you like you can splash in a bit of milk, cream, or a grating of your favorite cheese. If at any point the soup seems too thick you can dilute it by stirring in some more of your reserved cooking water, or milk if you would rather. Serve with garlic toast, deviled eggs, and hot spicy apple cider and you have a complete, easy and inexpensive mea l- all in harmonious golden hues.

Speaking of gold, one cup of rutabaga, before adding other ingredients, has only 50 calories! It is also high in phosphorous, potassium, vitamin C, A, and folate. It is low in fats and protein, and a fairly good source of fiber. By serving it as a side dish, with a source of protein and B vitamins such as beans, eggs, or meat, and a source of calcium such as dark leafy greens (which grow right on the top of your roots), or milk, yogurt, or cheese – you have a nutritionally complete meal. Nutritionally complete, and depending on your choices, very healthy and low in fat! That ought to give any dieter a golden glow.

Teachers might find some gold of another kind in the study of rutabagas. Any exploration of American history will probably include a unit on Thomas Jefferson, and that can include a celebration of our favorite root. Thomas Jefferson had an avid interest in gardening and the place of agriculture in world affairs. He strongly believed in crop diversification. And he was personally an advocate of our lovely rutabaga. He saved rutabaga seeds himself and shared them, which was documented by his own hand in a letter to a friend. For more information see:

If you are ready to get your own rutabagas growing, check out the seed displays at your local stores or any garden catalogs you have on hand. Rutabagas are often listed along with the turnips – to which they are closely related. If they don’t carry these good as gold roots contact Territorial Seed Company to request a catalog: (800) 626-0866

Stay tuned, next time we will be exploring Companion Planting, part art, part science -with lots of room for experimenting. Meanwhile, you can probably find me out in the garden, Digging the Dirt.

Copyright 2006 Harvest McCampbell, from my column "Digging the Dirt," published in The Hoopa Valley People Newspaper, Sept. 26, 2006. Posted here with permission.

Here are some links to Rutabaga pics:

Here’s More Fall and Winter Veggies, and the Poem is on down below –




Red Japanese Mustard:




Here’s the poem:

Veggie Love

turnip the heat
my darling
rutabaga baby

daikon has
nothing on you
salsify and burdock
come to mind
yams are a treat
but not so sweet
as your rootset deeply in

turnip the
my darling
rutabaga baby

Copyright 5-18-05 Harvest McCampbell

You can find more of my writing at

That's all . . .

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Cute Caterpillars

Wooly Bear caterpillars with their broad bands of bristly black and brown hair are a familiar fall sight in much of the US. Children everywhere greet them with delight, and many teachers look upon them for lessons in lifecycles and metamorphoses. The very things that make them amenable to lessons in the classroom, can make them a gardener’s nightmare.

Wooly Bears are very adaptable to weather and seasonal changes. Depending on temperature and food availability they can produce 2 – 5 generations a year. Unlike many other caterpillars and garden pests, they can feed on a wide variety of vegetation. You may not see them most of the year, because they tend to hide. They feed and spin their cocoons at ground level, and the adults are short lived moths that fly at night. But when autumn is nearly upon us those wooly bears get restless, and wander about. The generation of wooly bears that we find in the autumn normally sleep through the winter in any cozy dry spot they can find. They wake in the spring, feed for a few weeks if they need to, and then spin their cocoons.

If you find a few of these fuzzy guys wandering around your yard, you might ask your child’s classroom teachers if they would like to raise them in class. Perhaps your kids might want to keep them as pets or as a science project. Hand raised wooly bears should have a container with loose sand or soil on the bottom and some pieces of bark to crawl on and hide under. They will be happy to eat clover, dandelion, and plantain leaves (and really, just about any leave you offer them). Prop the leaves up in their container so they are not laying flat. When the wooly bears quit eating, give them a layer of dry leaves to hid under and place their container in a cool dry, shady spot where you won’t forget them. Mist the leaves slightly once a week or so, to keep the wooly bears them from dehydrating. Check on them once in a while and if they are moving around offer them a clover, plantain, or dandelion leaf or two. If they eat it and stay active feed them more. If they don’t eat, put more dry leaves in their container and find a quieter, colder spot for them to rest. An unheated garage or shed is ideal, but the coolest quietest corner of the classroom or the driest spot in the play yard, may do in a pinch. In spring the wooly bears may wake up very hungry. Once they are nice and fat they will spin cocoons and within a few weeks the moths will emerge. They do not feed as adults, and only live long enough to mate and lay hundreds of eggs. If you have raised at least one male and one female they may start a new generation in captivity so the children can appreciate the whole cycle of their life.

I know the gardeners out there (and most of you reading this are gardeners) are saying, “Two to five generations a year, eat a wide variety of vegetation, lay hundreds of eggs, and she is suggesting we let a single one live?” Well, there are so many hungry creatures out there waiting to devour wooly bear moths, eggs, and immature caterpillars that it is a wonder any make it all the way to fall. And even those bristly fuzzy caterpillars are sought out by skunks, who roll them around on the ground until the bristles all fall off, and then they have lunch. (And you thought skunks were all bad?)

Now, I will be the first to admit that any wooly bears I find, when there are no handy kids to give them to, I promptly squish. I didn’t always do that, but after they mowed down my forget-me-nots, and then moved on to my artichokes, they are goners. I also depend on an army of hard working beneficial creatures to keep wooly bears, and other caterpillar populations in check. Those large yellow and black garden spiders that weave the perfect Halloween webs catch their fair share of moths. Lady bugs and lace wings, both adults and larva will happily eat insect eggs and young of many kinds. Wasps love caterpillars. And while a wasp is no match for a full grown wooly bear, they eat their fair share of the young hatchlings. And there are more hungry creatures in natures garden.

Huge Jerusalem crickets, those scary looking guys that are often called potato bugs or skeleton bugs are also fond of ground living caterpillars like wooly bears and cut worms. And then there are those giant science fiction California Glow worms, they look like giant millipedes and have glow in the dark spots and pulsating stripes. These natives are voracious predators of all ground dwelling pests, including our cute caterpillars and our slimy slugs. Raised beds, that provide good drainage, filled with a soil mix high in organic matter, and topped off with a coarse non-compacting mulch - are the best ways to insure these hungry creatures will make a home in your garden. And there are even more ravenous creatures waiting to serve your gardening needs.

The tiny braconid wasps, cotesia wasps, tachnid flies, and trichogama wasps all parasitize caterpillar eggs or larva, often killing their hosts quite dead. You can attract these little useful creatures for the cost of a few flower seeds and a little garden neglect. Braconid wasps like cosmos, sunflower, & marigold flowers. Cotesia wasps like mustard, carrot and sweet alyssum flowers. Tachnid flies like dill, parsley, and clover flowers. Last but not least Trichogama wasps are fond of wild carrot, dill, and golden rod. All of these little guys like aphid honey dew – them aphids are not all bad. For more information on Beneficial Insects see:

So, here’s the basic caterpillar plan. Squish on sight, or give them to delighted children or classroom teachers. Ignore skunks and wasps to the best of your ability. Ignore small populations of aphids. Let the mustard and wild carrots grow and flower – even if the neighbors think they are weeds. Grow some of the flowers listed above and let them reseed. Welcome the tiny flying insects that are attracted and rest assured they are causing caterpillar nightmares. Keep adding organic matter to your soil and mulch with coarse plant material to attract ground dwelling predators. This is just a little bit of work and a whole lot of letting nature take its course. Some wooly bears will survive, but don’t forget, a few caterpillars (and aphids) munching a few leaves on your vegetables will stimulate the plants to make anti-oxidants and you will be the healthier for it!

Scroll down to: Isabella Tiger Moth, which is what the adult form is called.

More information on Garden pests:



Stay tuned, next we will be planting the very yummy garden swedes and rutabagas. Meanwhile, you can probably find me out in the garden, Digging the Dirt.

Copyright 2006 Harvest McCampbell, from my column "Digging the Dirt," published in The Hoopa Valley People Newspaper, Sept. 19, 2006. Posted here with permission.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Colorful Carrots

When we think of carrots, the color orange most commonly comes to mind. However, in the long history of human - carrot associations, this has not always been the case. Archeologists have found carrot seeds stored in ancient dwellings since Neolithic times. These ancient carrots had little resemblance to the carrots on our dinner plates today. They were very much like those wild white sweet roots that Native children are fond of foraging from fields and meadows. While sweet, these roots are fairly tough and most often completely white. It is assumed that Neolithic people gathered the wild roots for food and that the carrot seeds were also gathered for their medicinal and flavoring possibilities.

More recently but still long ago, in fact as long ago as five thousand years, folks in the Middle East began the first known intentional cultivation of carrots. They selected or developed some larger rooted purple carrots, as well as some bi-colored carrots that somewhat resembled the purple topped turnips that abound in markets and gardens today. These carrots spread through out the Middle East and Europe by as early 1000 AD. At this time carrots were still not the delectable vegetable we know today. While sweet and nutritious when young, they were fairly tough customers, and they had a tendency to grow woody and bitter as they aged.

By the tenth century AD yellow carrots were developed in Turkey, through careful selection. These new yellow carrots reached Holland by the fourteenth century. Within a couple hundred years the Dutch had selected out orange carrots that were well on their way to resembling the carrots that we know and love. (Meanwhile all this time, in South America the Indians had their own carrots – Arracacia, of which I can find very little information. The facts are intriguing, the plants are perennial, are grown much like potatoes, and each plant can produce up to 2 kilos of edible roots per year. Now, that is a bunch of carrots! But since I can’t find a source for seeds or plants, we will have to stick with growing these European carrots, for now.)

Fashions do change, in clothes and carrots. Things once considered old fashioned and out dated return as the new rage. A close look at some of the larger seed catalogs will uncover a glimpse of carrots in many colors. The historical colors of carrots, long out of vogue are back in force. And with them are some colors the ancients may have never imagined. Atomic Red and Purple Haze are some of the newest hot carrot colors. You can even buy Rainbow packets with tender sweet carrots ranging from white, through yellow, to pale shades of the more familiar orange. 

Over wintering colorful carrots from Growing Together Community Gardens, where you will find a little more info.

Carrots make an excellent fall and winter crop here in the Pacific North West.. If you get them started early enough, you can even grow them in areas that get substantial snow. Once the snow starts falling the carrots will stop growing. But they will start again as soon as it thaws out in spring, giving you an extra early crop. The rest of us can start our carrots pretty much any time of year, as long as we can provide them with plenty of water. However, carrots grown through the winter are extra fat, juicy, and sweet.

"After several frosts, plant starches become sugars. Carrots attain the sweet crunch of apples, and kale loses all hint of bitterness."  Fred Bahnson, Soil and Sacrament.
Purple topped carrots can get huge!  Learn more here.

When choosing a spot for your carrots, the very first consideration is gophers. If you have gophers in your yard or garden they are sure to eat your carrots before you do. And as the soil takes a bit of preparation for these deep rooted veggies, that is not my idea of a good deal. Carrots can be grown in containers, and that is especially fun to try if you have young children. An empty coffee or olive oil can - can be pressed into duty. Use a nail and a hammer to punch a few drainage holes in the bottom of your new designer pot. You can fill your pots with potting mix, or make your own. Start with a handful of garden soil, a handful of used coffee grounds if you have them around the house, a handful of sand if you can get it, and mix in a gallon or so of potting soil, screened compost, or leaf mould. It can be as simple as that.

If you want to grow more carrots than can be done in an assortment of containers, and gophers are problem, raised beds underlined with hardware cloth are the answer. Hardware cloth is a metal mesh material available at most hardware and garden supply centers. It is not cheap. It is available in 3’ wide rolls, and generally sells for upwards of $2.00 - $3.00 a foot by length. Make sure the hardware cloth you purchase is galvanized. The good news is that it lasts for many years.

Most raised beds are 3 feet wide by six feet long. When designing the beds make sure that the outside measurement of the frame is 3 feet, so you have plenty of space to securely tack your hardware cloth to the wood, preventing gophers access to the beds. For carrots it is a good idea to have beds at least 12 inches high, higher might be even better. I am happy with my 12” x 1” boards hammered together and screened on the bottom. They are simple, not too expensive, and they look just fine.

For growing carrots in raised beds you may want a planting mix that contains a good amount of sand - if you can get it, lots of organic matter, and a lesser amount of plain old mineral soil. A nice loose mix that will resist compaction is ideal. If you are going to make your own, screened compost or leaf mould makes a good starter, purchased sharp sand is ideal – but river sand will do, and a few shovels full of your own garden dirt makes a good addition. You can also purchase planting mix, if you like. Just ask the nursery what they would recommend.

Fill your beds loosely, water well to settle the soil, top off the beds and repeat and level as needed. You want your soil to settle to within 2 inches of the top of your raised beds. Beds or containers filled too high will loose soil to rain and watering, but those without enough soil will cramp the root development of your yummy and nutritious carrots. (If they weren’t so dang good, and good for you too, they really wouldn’t be worth the trouble. Nothing much taste sweeter than a fresh pulled carrot.)

Now you are ready for seeds. I would bet that almost all nurseries and garden sections of hardware stores stock at least a few varieties of carrot seed. You might even be able to find them at your favorite grocery store. But if you want to amaze friends and family with fat ones, skinny ones, long ones, and short ones, as well as red, white, and purple ones, you will probably have to hit the seed catalogs.

The two best catalogs I’ve found, as far as carrot selections go, are Johnny’s Selected Seeds and Thompson and Morgan. You can request a free catalog from both these companies. Johnny’s Selected Seeds is enough to make any gourmet gardener drool. They carry 17 different varieties of carrots, including all the fancy colors and shapes listed above. You can request a catalog by phone, 877-564-6697, or on the Internet: Thompson and Morgan offers a whopping 19 different varieties of carrots, and while some of them over lap with Johnny’s offerings, they both have some unique selections. You can contact Thompson and Morgan by phone, 800-274-7333, or on the Internet:

When ordering or purchasing your seed, consider getting some scallions, shallots, or bunching onions too. Carrots inter-grown with any of these alliums are much less susceptible to carrot maggots, who can eat tunnels through these tasty roots. I have not had any problems with carrot maggots here in Hoopa, but I was occasionally bothered by them when I gardened down in the Sacramento area. Rotating your carrot plantings each year and soil solarization can help if carrot maggots get to be a problem.

If you still want to know more about carrots, check out the carrot museum: They have information on everything from carrot antifreeze to carrot quotes, great classroom and rainy day activities, and much, much more. 

Articles On Other Fall and Winter Veggies:
BroccoliFennelGiant Red Japanese Mustard, Kale, KohlrabiParsnips.  

Copyright 2006 Harvest McCampbell, from my column "Digging the Dirt," published in The Hoopa Valley People Newspaper, Sept. 12, 2006. Posted here with permission.

Updated with a quote, photos, and minor editing on 11.16.16.  Text and photos, copyright Harvest McCampbell.  Please feel free to share via the buttons below.  All other rights reserved.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Fall Flowers

Summers heat has begun to subside and our days are turning mild and breezy. Once again it is a joy to be out in the garden among the flowers and bees while the sun warms work weary shoulders. Many of our favorite blooms are fading to seed. But there are still some garden stars to enjoy through the months of fall. Here are some ideas for both fussy gardeners and those who like to take it easy.

One of my farorite plants for autumn is the lovely and delicate California Fuchsia. They are also known as Zauchneria and Epilobium. But no matter what you call them, their firecracker flowers will decorate your borders from mid summer through mid-fall. They are perennials in most temperate parts of Northern CA (hardy to zone 7). You just have to plant them once and they will grace your landscape for years to come. These fabulous little flowers bloom in shades of red and orange, depending on the variety you choose. Their narrow tubular flowers are perfect for hummingbirds, who definitely love the nectar. If you plant blooming specimens now, those glitter feathered birds may visit your yard well into fall.

California Fuchsia is attractive in the garden, even when not in bloom. There are varieties that are used as ground covers and in hanging baskets. These creepers come with fuzzy or smooth, narrow, grey or green leaves. They look graceful spilling out of a container or over a ledge. I am particularly found of the grey leaved types. They add color and texture to the landscape even when they are out of bloom. There are other varieties that form what are called “sub-shrubs.” These plants grow up to 3 feet tall, depending on the variety. The taller specimens deserve a place in the middle of the border. There are varieties that range up to about 2 feet tall that look great inter-planted with roses. They can serve to hide the roses stubby ankles and knees. Just make sure you choose colors that harmonize in a way that pleases your eye. Read plant labels or catalog descriptions thoroughly, to be sure you choose plants that are right for the spot you have in mind.

Zauchnaria, as I am in the habit of calling it, can be planted anytime now through spring. If water is a problem in your area, plant in the fall after the rains have begun. (You may not get flowers this year if you have to wait.) By summer this hardy native plant will have sunk its roots deep enough to withstand most of what summer can dish out. The soil needs no special preparation and they are bothered by few pests. (The slugs don’t even bother the ones in my yard.) Good drainage is helpful if you can provide it. In the summer they prefer to be a little on the dry side, so consider the moisture needs of other near by plants when choosing Zauchnaria’s special spot. They love the sun, so give them plenty of exposure. If your plants get a little raggedy looking over the winter try to wait until the end of February before giving them a bit of a hair cut. That way you will preserve as many healthy stems as possible and you are sure to get a repeat performance of the autumn fireworks next year.

Another great fall bloomer hardy in our area is Mexican Bush Sage (Salvia leucantha). This sage eventually forms a fragrant shrub up to four feet tall and wide. The stems and stalks have a purple cast, and are covered with soft grey fuzz. The flower bracts are a deep purple, also covered with that same soft fuzz. The flowers themselves come in purple or white, depending on the variety. They also attract hummingbirds and tend to begin their show in late summer or early fall. In mild weather they may continue blooming through early winter. The leaves are narrow, long, crinkled, and a pleasant shade of green. Mexican Bush Sage is hardy to zone 8. It has few pests, it is drought tolerant, and it loves the sun. Much like California Fuchsia, it is not picky about soil, other than needing good drainage. While this plant is hardy in our area, you don’t often see it planted. So if you want something a little different look for Mexican Bush Sage.

Gaura, bee blossom, butterfly flower, or wand flower (Gaura lindheimeri) makes a great companion to either Mexican Bush Sage or California Fuchsia. It is a long lived perennial flower with slim flowering “wands” that grow from 2 – 3 feet tall. Many varieties have foliage and stems marked with maroon, making the plants colorful whether they have flowers or not. Gaura begins blooming in late summer and will continue throughout fall. Plants will live in sun or shade, but will flower best in a sunny spot. They are drought tolerant, have few pests, and the flowers range from white to pink, depending on the variety you choose. If you live in an area that gets a hard frost or snow, Gaura is likely to die back to the ground in winter. But rest assured, as soon as spring comes around the corner, your Gaura will come back to life.

If you are the “take it easy type,” are in a hurry for some fall flowers, and are on a budget, here’s a little secret you can use right now. There are two very inexpensive types of seeds you can purchase, and simply throw on the ground in-between your other plants and have flowers in about 6 weeks. This little trick will only work in areas that you water. It is fun to try this with your kids, and it might even make a nice class project. But you need to do it right away. Once it starts raining it will be to late to try this year.

This little trick starts at the feed store, or the bulk bins at the grocery or health food store. Look for the small black sunflower seeds they sell to feed pets, and also look for raw whole buckwheat. (You don’t want roasted buckwheat groats – they won’t grow.) Buy a quarter pound or so of each, and just toss them around where you would like them to grow. The sunflowers grow up to about 3 feet tall, and have flowers from 3 – 6 inches across. Some plants will have multiple flower heads blooming one at a time. And you should have your first flower buds in 4 – 6 weeks. They are really fast and fun. The buck wheat makes an attractive spreading plant with 2 – 3 inch heart shaped leaves and interesting jointed stems. They will begin blooming in about a month of being sown, when they are only 6 – 8 inches tall. They make sweet smelling crescents from an inch to 3 inches long, full of tiny white flowers. The plants will continue to grow until frost, forming a loose open network of arching stems and flowers. (Both the sunflowers and the buckwheat will need replanted next year, if you want a repeat performance.) Hurry, fall seems to be coming early this year.

If your local nursery doesn’t carry the perennials listed above here are some mail order sources: Forest Farm, (541) 846-7269 They have several varieties of Gaura and Zauchnaria.
Mountain Valley Growers, (539) 339-2775 They have one variety each of Zauchnaria and Gaura as well as two types of Mexican Bush Sage.

Next time we will be getting ready to grow some of the new colorful carrots for a cool fall crop. Meanwhile, you can probably find me out in the garden, Digging the Dirt.

Copyright 2006 Harvest McCampbell, from my column "Digging the Dirt," published in The Hoopa Valley People Newspaper, Sept. 5, 2006. Posted here with permission.