Saturday, March 25, 2006

Gophers and Gardeners

1,429 words, copyright Harvest McCampbell 2006
Published by the Hoopa Valley People Newspaper 3/21/06
Posted here with permission

Gophers and Gardeners

In mountain meadows, far from our homes, the lowly gopher has a number of very important jobs. The tunneling for which they are infamous loosens, aerates, and turns the soil, mixing in organic matter. Plants quickly colonize the improved soil, and benefit by the improved ability for water to seep into their root zones. Drainage is also improved, excess water flows through gopher tunnels heading towards lower ground. While the meadows directly benefit from this activity, it is not the only way gophers contribute to the meadows life cycle.

Gophers are directly involved with the soil nutrient cycle. They build underground nests of dry grass and other plant material that eventually breaks down and provides food for soil organisms and plant roots. They have special “bathroom” chambers in their colonies, and as this material breaks down it provides plants with nitrogen and other important nutrients. Gophers also provide meals for a variety of animals including snakes, foxes, bobcats, lynx, coyotes, as well as larger carnivores when other pickings are slim. In this way nutrients are cycled over a large area.

These small rodents actually have much in common with human gardeners. They tend the soil, redistribute seed, move plants from place to place, and they eat the fruits, roots, and leaves of their efforts. In fact if they didn’t eat our own carefully tended vegetables, our prized flowers perhaps we wouldn’t hate them so much. As it is, soon after our favorite dahlia disappears underground, the war is on.

If you have ever engaged in battle with the lowly garden gopher, you may have discovered that it is a fight you can’t win. Certainly you have prevailed in various surmises. There have definitely been small furry bodies to burry. But the moment you turn your back you have a few less tulips than you did the moment before.

Gophers are highly adapted to the rigors of predation. The more of them we (or our friends the gopher snakes) kill, the faster they reproduce. And they are wily creatures. They will actually study up your habits and adapt theirs to defy detection. Momma gopher knows you go on the war path when she bothers certain flower beds, so she won’t. It is just that the little punks she gives birth to will not listen. While you are busy sending them to an early grave, she is under the wood pile nursing another brood.

While this is a war you will never permanently win, you are probably up for the fight. It certainly gives you something to take your aggressions out on. Something to channel your killer instincts towards that probably won’t get you in trouble with your mate. There is such a thing as good war, as long as you leave poisons out of it. You wouldn’t want to accidentally poison a pet. Most poisons sold for rodents will definitely harm anything else that ingests them. And they are likely to stay potent in your soil and our eco-system for a long long time.

Unless you are going to take a live and let live attitude, you may want to arm yourself with some good hardware. Most effective and lethal, are the traps actually designed for moles*. Look for the reusable spring loaded plunging type traps that are set over active tunnels. While these won’t keep gophers from returning, the ones they catch will definitely be dead. If this thought brings a smile to your face check, for traps at your local hardware store, nursery, or in your favorite garden catalog. If you don’t find what you are looking for Gempler’s carries a number of models. You can request a catalog by calling 1-800-382-8473 or on-line at: (Be careful with these contraptions. If your child or pet pulls them out of the ground they could be harmed.)

While you are perusing the shelves or catalogs you may come across some electronic devices that purport to repel underground rodents. These items have been found to work for only a few feet square feet. If you must plant your dahlias or tulips in the ground – one or more of these might provide some protection without causing Mrs. Mama Gopher to go into hyper-reproductive mode.

Of course you can always invest in containers or hardware cloth. Ceramic containers are a pretty sure deal as far as protecting a plants roots from rodent damage. Ceramic doesn’t break down. It will last forever baring being kicked, knocked over, or rammed with the lawn mower. Plants in containers need to be carefully watched in the summer, as they dry out fast. However, containers do provide welcome drainage during the rainy season.

Hardware cloth is a metal mesh generally available in 3 foot widths from most hardware stores. It is generally sold by the roll or the foot, and can cost upwards of $2.00 to $2.50 a foot. Hardware cloth can be used to form underground baskets to protect plants roots, and placed under raised beds, tires, or what have you to form gopher proof zones. I use raised beds (including tires) with hardware cloth in my gardens and it works like a charm. I have read that making an underground fence, 18” deep, of the hardware cloth can protect your whole garden from gophers. That would be a pretty pricy solution. I am not certain the wily little creatures wouldn’t just burrow under the dang thing and come on in for lunch. But if anyone wants to give it a try, please let me know how it works out.

Another strategy that works fairly well, is to interplant your garden with Euphorbias. This is a large group of plants that includes a number of ornamentals, succulents, cacti, and weeds. The roots of the Euphorbias exude a bitter toxic latex when they are disturbed. (This is not something to try if you have toddlers that like to taste everything in the yard.) I encourage the common garden weed - Petty Spurge (Euphorbia peplus). Where ever this dainty little pretty decides to grow, it provides fabulous gopher protection. Here is a web site with photos of Petty Spurge:
The last photo on the page clearly shows a young plant. And this just goes to show that weeds are not all bad.

Petty spurge has a few draw backs. First it is an annual. That means it only lives a short while, sets its seeds, and then dies. Just when you may want it most – it’s gone. This little plant has a mind of its own. It never seems to grow in the same place twice, and rarely exactly where I want it. But I certainly don’t pull it out. It is welcome wherever it wants to be.

There are a number of showy perennial Euphorbias available. Ask at your local nursery and check your garden catalogs. You may find one actually listed as gopher spurge. This is a handsome tall blue green plant that looks great in the corners of the vegetable garden and at the back of flower borders. In late summer or early fall it produces bright green blooms which are followed by large seed clusters. If your favorite catalog doesn’t have it, Gurney’s does: 513-354-1491. Also try Forest Farm for mail order plants: 541-846-7269 and Thompson and Morgan for seeds of a flowering and a variegated variety: 800-274-7333.

The last strategy I use to preserve some produce for my own use, is to grow some plants that the gophers like. Dang it, but they get hungry too. Wild and garden varieties of chicory, as well as Queens Anne’s Lace suit a gophers palette perfectly. (You can order seed from Thompson and Morgan or collect it in the late summer from wayside fields.) These plants add minerals to the compost pile, distract the gophers from what I want to eat, and produce attractive flowers as well. I try to practice the live and let live philosophy – at least when it comes to gophers. But if things get out of control, you will definitely find me with traps in hand.

*(Moles by the way, are gardeners friends. They eat cut-worms, pincher bug larva, slugs, and other creatures we love to hate. They are ugly carnivores, while gophers are cute vegetarians. Moles won’t actually eat your plants, but you might find their tunneling and digging to be annoying. If their population gets too large they will turn their attention to the earthworms who are gardeners’ best friends. If necessary Moles can be controlled by most of the methods mentioned above.)

1,429 words, copyright Harvest McCampbell 2006
Published by the Hoopa Valley People Newspaper 3/21/06
Posted here with permission

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Part or full time work / Hoopa

Part or full time work available in Hoopa working with disabled and elderly people.

There are quite a few folks that need help here in Hoopa. By working for a few people you can easily arrange a part or full time schedule around school, community or family responsibilities. Currently there may be housing available for the right person. This might be the opportunity someone needs to move out of the city to a small community. Rent is inexpensive and we have community college classes here on the reservation.

Two organizations maintain lists of care providers for the area. The Willow Creek Resource Center (530) 629-3141 and Care Giver Support (530) 629-1139. At the moment neither agency has anyone available to work in Hoopa. If you are interested in doing this kind of work please contact them to find out how to get your name on the lists.

I personally need 1 – 3 part time helpers as the result of a serious accident I was in last year. I need help getting to medical appointments, with housework, and with shopping and errands. The schedule that would work best for me is:

Tuesday and Thursday 1 – 4 pm and/or
Saturday 1 – 4 pm and/or
Two trips to town for shopping per month

For more information please call Harvest McCampbell at (530) 625-1164 or e-mail: harvest95546 @ (take out spaces.)

Thank you,


Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Oh man, it’s cold

Dear Readers,

I don’t have a fire, and that is really the only way to heat the house. There are a couple of small electric heaters that can warm a room, at most. I have one of them plugged in and on high in the living room, and I am all bundled up. I just got home from the library and it is below 60 degrees in the house. It will take a bit for that heater to even begin to take the chill off . . . And I am sure I am going to croak when I see my electric bill.

But I have damaged tendons and ligaments in my neck, shoulder, and right arm. I am not supposed to be lifting anything. So no fire . . .

Oh well, I am going to sit here and check my e-mail and write you all a few words while I eat my lunch. Then I am going to brew myself up some Ephedera veridis tea for my aches and pains. And boy do I have them! Not only from the cold and the cold is definitely a contributor. But my missing in action IHHS worker is also partly to blame. She is approved to work 75 hours this month – and has only been putting in about 4 hours a week. So I have to do all kinds of things that I shouldn’t. And it hurts. At least she did take me to town to shop yesterday. I really needed groceries bad. But she didn’t help me as much as she should. I don’t mean to be ungrateful. But I hurt and I got to blame it on someone.

Gosh, I got a whine that just won’t stop. I need a solution . . . Hmmm . . . lets see . . . Hey, I got it! Anyone know a local person who wants a part time job? Pretty simple work – housework, errands, fire tending, etc., and two trips to town for shopping a month. Hours per month vary. The pay is kind of low, but the company is good, and the benefits may be slim but they include a large variety of seeds for your garden and occasional extra produce or flowers. You couldn’t support yourself at it – but I am not the only person around here that needs this kind of help. Full time work can be put together with a collection of clients . . . I am here waiting, in the cold . . . let me know . . .

Ok, I got to get a grip . . . I need to check the Agapanthus seedlings, the seedlings under the lights, I need to water the other flat of seedlings and some of the potted things outside. I am going to make a stir fry with albacore, onions, carrots, asparagus, red cabbage and greens from the garden. Before I do that I will have to clean the kitchen because my worker did not show up today . . .

Ok, ok, get a grip. Yes it *#$#*%@ hurts, but it is all going to be ok. Life is going to go on. Yes it will . . .

Geeze people, just don’t go getting in any car accidents ok? It doesn’t feel good and it can last a long long time. . . .


Sunday, March 19, 2006

Giant Red Japanese Mustard

This colorful and versatile ‘green’ can grow to 18” tall. The showy deep reddish purple savoy leaves are accented by pale green veins, margins, and undersides. Giant Red Japanese Mustard deserves a place in spring, fall, and winter gardens even if you don’t plan on eating your five servings of fruits and vegetables a day. With its bold leaves and splendid colors it is equally at home in the company of flowers, herbs, or vegetables.

Foodies will love the versatility of this colorful mustard. At each stage of growth it offers something for the kitchen. When the plants are young, the mild flavored leaves make an excellent addition to salads and sandwiches. The young leaves also make a brilliant garnish, especially when combined with a few edible flowers and a sprig or two of curled parsley.

Later, when the leaves are large they have lots more bite. When raw, they taste exactly like wasabi. Cooking mellows them, but if you like hot stuff, use them raw in salads, coleslaws, and other dishes. They can be used to make a pesto that may clear up your spring time hay fever in a jiffy, just by sheer heat. (Whiz up a cup or two of raw red mustard greens with a little olive oil in a food processor. You can fancy up and cool down your pesto with crushed walnuts, pine nuts, or ricotta cheese. Start with a tablespoon of each of your additions. Add more, if you like, according to taste. And don’t forget a little salt. Serve on crackers or pasta. And pass the Kleenex please.)

Cooked the mustard still retains lots of flavor, but the heat is curbed. A single large leaf will add deep green color and rich flavor to a pot of soup. The flavor complements other greens such as kale, collards, cabbage, and chard. It goes well with onions, garlic, potatoes, parsnips, carrots, and all the common ingredients of soups and stews. Nutritionists have long touted the benefits of dark leafy green vegetables. You can’t get much darker than this giant red mustard. If you are after the nutritional benefits of the dark leafy greens you can’t go wrong. Mustard can be steamed, wilted, sautéed, or prepared like any other green. How about a spicy mustard dip instead of spinach? (In fact if you suffer from migraines you might consider replacing all spinach, chard, and beet greens with low amine mustards and kales. You might even feel better!)

When summer comes mustard will bolt, flower and set seed. The spicy flowers and young seed pods are edible and excellent in salads. The flowers can also be used as edible garnishes, and frozen in ice cubes to dress up spicy tomato based drinks. The pods can be added to mixed steamed vegetables, soups, and stir fries. Even the stalk is edible, if peeled. It makes a spicy crunchy celery substitute. However, don’t cut all your mustards stalks. Leave some to set seed for next seasons crop.

Giant Red Japanese Mustard is easy to grow. Nurseries seldom stock young plants so you may have to start with seed. It’s a Brassica, which makes it related to cabbage, broccoli, and radishes. Their seeds are not as fussy about temperature as are some other vegetables. Seeds can be sown in any garden soil, or in 6 packs in a sunny window or on a bright porch. Just keep the soil moist and out of direct frost. In about a week to ten days (if not sooner) you should see cheery little seedlings beginning to grow. There is no need to wait until after the last frost. You can start your mustard seed as long as he weather stays cool.

Like all seedlings this red mustard is susceptible to damage and decimation by our constant adversary, the lowly garden slug. If you’re gardens are hounded by this scourge, you will have the best luck starting your seeds indoors. Once the seedlings have reached a few inches in height, and have begun to develop the mustards characteristic bite, the slugs will probably move on in search of milder fare. (“Hey, isn’t there some iceberg lettuce around here somewhere?”) If the vile creatures continue to attack your plants, hand picking mornings and evenings is helpful, as are pie pans full of cheap beer. Slugs will often volunteer to drown themselves in the brew, even if it is stale and flat.  For more information on discouraging slugs, please see my post on Slug Control.

It takes about a month from transplanting until you can begin picking your first leaves. Plants started now will continue to produce until hot weather arrives. If you find you enjoy the Giant Red Japanese Mustard as much as I do, you will also want to grow some for summer time use. Plants started in late May or June will need to be planted on the north side of the house, or another spot where they will have shade for most of the day. You may need to make successive sowings because the heat of summer encourages them to flower quickly instead of growing a continuous crop of leaves. They will need ample summertime water to coax them along.

Giant Mustard is also productive when planted in the fall. Fall plantings provide very welcome fresh greens all winter. Their spiciness is a bonus at a time when many other herbs are dormant. And their bold colorful leaves can brighten dreary and dormant flower beds. And now I know you are wanting to get some for yourself! You probably know just the spot that needs a colorful and tasty accent . . .

Seeds for Giant Red Japanese Mustard are available through many mail order seed catalogs. They are a bit unusual and may not be in stock at your local nursery, but it never hurts to ask. If you don’t find them locally or in any of your seed catalogs, they can be ordered by mail or on line from:


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