Tag Archives: gardening

Apiaceae Family: The Carrots or Parsley Family

The Apiaceae family of plants and herbs is also called the Parsley or Carrot family. It contains some of the most commonly used vegetables – carrots, celery, celeriac, fennel and parsnip – and many of our favorite aromatic herbs – chervil, parsley, cilantro, dill, cilantro, cumin, caraway, anise, lovage and angelica.

It also includes some deadly relatives — poison hemlock and water hemlock – with the same flat white umbrella of flowers that has given this family its other Latin name (umbelliferae). Many beneficial garden insects love this type of flower. For example, if carrots are left to flower they will attract a beneficial predatory wasp.

Another common trait found in this family is hollow stems. Children have been poisoned when they accidentally used hemlock stems for straws thinking they were a wild carrot plant. Best to plant these veggies and herbs yourself rather than forage, unless you really know your Apiaceae plants.

Apiaceae plants have a few more tricks up their sleeve. Some contain a chemical in their sap that cause burn-like blisters and can change the pigmentation of skin exposed to it, which can happen during harvest on a sunny day. Some can cause mild to severe allergic reactions in people who have an allergy to birch trees or mugwort. Who knew these common veggies lived in such an unsavory family!

This is such a large edible family so I’ll write about carrots and celery in this post, fennel and parsnip in the next post, and the herbs in a following post.



Carrots grow well in my Minneapolis urban garden – especially well last year. They like full sun but tolerate some shade. They like loose, well-drained soil that’s higher in potassium and lower in nitrogen. If you’ve got a nitrogen rich soil because you’ve been studiously adding compost each year, you’re likely to have hairy, misshapen carrots. (Oh, so that’s been my problem!)

Screen shot 2016-01-24 at 11.37.10 AM

A useful book to learn about companion planting.

Carrots achieved literary fame with the book “Carrots Love Tomatoes” … and they do. Tomatoes can shade carrots, which are sensitive to heat, and the tomato plant secretes a chemical that repels insects that harm carrots. But if you plant the two too close, all that shade will stunt carrot growth. I interplanted my carrots with taller plants last summer and they didn’t do much until I harvested the other plants and gave the carrots full sun at the end of August. By the end of September they were nice and big.

Radishes and carrots are ideal for planting together; harvest the radishes in 45 days and then let the carrots keep growing into the space left behind.

Carrots are vulnerable to carrot root fly. Onions, leeks and chives repel carrot root flies. They also provide the carrot plant with dappled shade, so they make good companion plants. Don’t plant them by brother parsnip or you’ll attract a double dose of carrot flies.

Carrots are also vulnerable to root knot nematodes. Marigolds repel nematodes, but I’ve read that they need to be grown in that area for a year before they’re going to be most effective at that job. We regularly grow marigolds to repel pests but I was unaware of the need to have planted in that space the prior year.

Serving Carrots for Greatest Nutrition: Everyone knows the bright orange of carrots comes from its beta-carotene, but did you know that only 3% of that beta-carotene can be accessed during digestion when you eat carrots raw? (I should say, I’m not a food scientists; I learned this while researching carrots.) Beta-carotene is 10 times more accessible when the carrots are cooked or pureed. Carrot greens are also edible when harvested young. They can be used in a stir fry or salad.

Storing Carrots: Carrots are long-lasting veggies, capable of being stored for months in the refrigerator or throughout the winter if placed – unwashed – in a bucket of sand and wood shavings or in soil between 32 to 40 °F. You can also keep harvesting them right out of the ground!

Food Safety Note for Carrots

Some people have an allergic reaction to carrots. If, like me, you’re allergic to birch tree pollen or mugwort, your immune system can become confused by a protein in carrot that is very similar to the tree pollen, which is the cause of the reaction. Cooking it does not help.


This is a powerhouse plant. The stalk is eaten as a vegetable; the leaves as a seasoning, and the seeds as a spice (but don’t eat seeds you buy for planting; they are often treated with a fungicide). Add salt to celery seed and you’ve made celery salt, a common Cajun and Creole seasoning. Chop the stalks up and add in carrots and onion and you’ve got the holy trinity of French cooking, mirepoix.

Because celery requires a long growing season, it’s not typically grown in a home garden in Minnesota. Maybe we’ll be able to grow celery as we get further into climate change … but you might not want to. It requires a lot of special care, such as planting in deep trenches to prevent light from reaching the stem.

Health Benefits of Celery: Some research says celery seeds and celery juice reduce high blood pressure.

Storing Celery: Celery looks fragile but that’s deceiving. It can be stored up to 7 weeks at temps between 32 to 36 °F.

Food Safety Notes for Celery

Even if I could, I won’t be growing celery anytime soon. It is one of the most allergenic vegetables. For some people, eating celery can result in fatal anaphylactic shock. The allergen is not deactivated by cooking. Celeriac (or celery root) is more reactive than the stalk, and the seeds more still. Since celery seeds are used in a variety of products, this can be quite a problem.

Celery juice and celery juice powder is a common natural preservative because it is high in nitrates. Because it’s a plant-based nitrate, I’ve read that food producers can use it and still label their product “nitrate free” or “no added nitrates.” If you are sensitive to nitrates and get migraines, you may need to take care when eating celery and other high-nitrate vegetables — beets, lettuce, radishes and spinach.

Permaculture Principle 11: Use Edges and Value the Marginal

Where are the edges in your yard?

  • The edge of the house and the yard? That space has its own microclimate. It is typically protected from wind but may not get enough water.
  • The edge of the yard and the sidewalk? This space has lots of visitors. Plants may need to survive dog urine showers and sidewalk salt.
  • The edge of a yard and a driveway? Snow will be piling up here – up and up. Delicate shrubs may not like getting hit with snow from the plow.
  • The boulevard between the sidewalk and the street? Another microclimate, more challenging soil conditions, more public traffic.
  • The open yard and the side of a fence? Think about shade, protection and structure.
In 2014, we added a side yard fence. Now I can begin adding a shade flower garden within the border of a fence.

In 2014, we added a side yard fence. Now I can begin adding a shade flower garden within the border of a fence.

Edges can be hard places to work with, but they present a lot of interesting opportunity and natural diversity. “Weeds” tend to appear in those places where it’s harder to survive. Is it truly a problem plant? Is it a plant misplaced? Or is it a plant you don’t yet know?

We’ve spent a bit of time in the last two years learning about wild edibles. We attended a foraging class with Charley Underwood through Exco, experimental community education of the Twin Cities. Not only did we learn to identify some of these plants, we got a chance to eat them.

Ilze Mueller has conducted “weed walks” through her community garden with folks from Transition Longfellow.

Friend Elizabeth Blair told us about the Minnesota Mycological Society, which sponsors mushroom walks. Whenever a new mushroom pops up in our yard, she comes over to identify it for us.

When I posted a question about whether my chokecherry tree was the right kind to harvest from – chokecherry or chokeberry, but only one is “edible” – a naturalist who is a member on the Transition Facebook page came to my yard and showed me around it in a whole new way!

Before we judge a being that lives along the edges too harshly, we should try to understand who and what they are and the benefits they bring.

Permaculture Principle 10: Use and Value Diversity

Efforts are underway in our city to develop more seed saving capacity by training more seed savers. I believe another goal is to grow out seed in our local area so it can acclimatize to changing local conditions.

I was trained in how to segregate tomato plants, document their growth, and save their seeds. I was given 16 plants and I spent the summer worrying about my new babies – the Hugh tomato.

Suppose they didn’t grow? Would this plant be lost for all time?

Diversity is like an insurance policy buffering us against disaster, disease and failure. You never know when we may need the unique qualities of this or that version of a plant. For example, this year I grew four types of tomatoes. Two of them became mushy and split due to inconsistent watering (excess rain and my fault). Two of them did just fine, so I still had tomatoes to eat but not enough to can.

The Hugh Tomato (when not segregated – it develops a peachy hugh when it crosses with red tomatoes)

I am absolutely fascinated by the story of seeds. Each generation of a plant carries forward everything its parents learned about living on the earth – how to deal with wind and water, lots or little nutrients, lots or little sun, an ever increasing amount of carbon. That plant ALSO learns and its seeds carry that knowledge into the next generation. It adapts – sometime better and sometimes worse.

What my Hugh tomatoes learned was how to be tasty! Some of them – the ones that weren’t under protective cover — cross-bred with red tomatoes on the other side of the garden and they were amazingly beautiful, yellow with a blushing pink bottom J. (I didn’t save those seeds for Seed Savers; I kept a few of those.)

Planning for a Diverse Harvest

Winter seed sowing - awaiting the warmth of spring

Winter seed sowing – awaiting the warmth of spring

I’m sure it’s obvious but be sure to plan for early, mid and late season crops so you’ve got something to eat all the time. Transition Longfellow hosts a winter seed sowing workshop every year. We plant early spring crops – spinach, lettuce – in milk cartons and leave them out in the snow. As the weather warms, they grow when they’re ready. By springtime I’ve got 50 little lettuces ready to put in the ground.

And then I inevitably make the mistake of actually putting 50 lettuces in the ground because I’m enthusiastic. It’s a mistake because I can’t use that many at once. I need 10 lettuces in week one … and 10 in week two … and 10 in week three. I need to put in kale and collards, too, not just lettuce. This ensures I’ve got something all summer long and into frost season, and that my garden isn’t overgrown.

I will admit that I don’t worry too much if I find that some of my plants have gone to seed. I harvest lettuce seeds. I’ve had kale and collards regrow from where I left them in the ground the year before. It’s free food.

The garden's marigold border

The garden’s marigold border

Another part of diversity in my garden is planting flowers along with the vegetables. I always have one garden with a marigold border for my husband. My new favorite is borage flowers and I must admit I let them go a bit wild because I love to eat the flowers. We have lots of happy pollinators.

Diversity Can Be Messy

Permaculture values the wild places. They need to be protected. Earlier I wrote about zones. A permaculture design usually includes a ‘zone 5’ area which is left for nature to do as it will. I’ve got spaces in my yard I don’t touch – and spaces I touch only once a year.

When I see a “weed,” I wonder about its potential. Will it put out a pretty flower later if I leave it now? I’ll love it for its qualities – it’s airy and light, it’s pleasantly lobed, it’s functional, it has lovely purple flowers (yeah, you know the one I’m talking about). I’ve often been rewarded by beautiful wild flowers for my efforts – such as the lovely flower of the yellow goat’s beard.

Because my love is in the details, I sometimes overlook the fact that too many of these unexpected visitors will make my garden look unkempt. That’s why it’s good to have an area you can leave to its own devices and love for its many surprises.

Permaculture Principle 9: Use Small and Slow Solutions

Make the least change for the greatest possible effect. – Bill Mollison

Small and slow systems are easier to maintain than big ones, make better use of local resources, and produce more sustainable outcomes. – David Holmgren

Small and slow solutions will be increasingly important in an energy-constrained future. Large, fast solutions typically use more energy and are more expensive. It may be appropriate to use a lot of energy to set up a system, but in the long run the system should be self-sustaining.

I think an example of a slow solution – maybe the only example I can think of, since I’m bad at doing things slowly – is our raised garden beds. We now have 18 raised beds but we didn’t start there. We started with four.

The latest installation of raised beds

The latest installation of raised beds

They worked well and helped us achieve the goal we were seeking: making it easier for me to keep the garden weeded even when my back was acting up. I quite enjoyed weeding them. I could sit on the edge and reach everything. It takes about 15 minutes to weed one bed. I can easily do three or four in a day.

The next year I added five more. It continued to work well, so in the fall of 2014 we went all out and added nine more. Now we’re done. I hope this investment proves to be, as Bill Mollison would say, appropriately scaled. We’ll know if I can maintain them without feeling overwhelmed.

If I were to do anything differently, it would be that I would not have added more beds until I had figured out the best way to keep them watered. But that’s not a new problem. I’m always struggling with my water setup.

For the Love of Perennials

Perennial plants are the epitome of slow and small solutions. In my garden, rhubarb and raspberry took a bit of time to get established but once they are contented, I do nothing for them but harvest!

I want MORE of these kinds of crops – more sorrel, more asparagus, more horseradish, more dill (evidently I’m not going to have any trouble getting more of those last two). I’m hoping that next year I’ll find that the ground cherries have reseeded themselves.

The Big Picture of Slow Versus Fast Solutions

Soaking and fermenting food takes a few days or weeks before it’s ready to eat but the food then requires no cooking – not fossil fuel inputs for cooking or for storing!

Biking takes more time but is so much more enjoyable than driving. I check out gardens. I can say hi to neighbors. I can observe more of what is going on around me. Because I was biking, I have stopped at small shops in our neighborhood that have become new favorites.

Slow and small has some very big advantages.

Permaculture Principle 8: Integrate Rather than Segregate

There are two ways I could go when talking about this principle.

The first way is to talk about how to design a resilient system. It has to do with a “functional analysis of elements” and starts by defining the desirable functions one needs to accomplish in a space, listing all the elements, inputs and outputs, identifying multiple ways functions can be accomplished and where outputs of one system can become inputs of another.

I’m just not very motivated to talk about that kind of complexity today. I’d rather tell a story about weeding my garden with a friend from Africa.

She had a farm in West Africa, where she grew a lot of papaya, and maybe some other things. I thought she would enjoy helping in my garden because of her background and because here in America she lives in a place where she cannot get her hands in the dirt.

So we were weeding one hot afternoon and she was “humphing.”

Pull a weed, slouch her shoulders, “humph.”

Pull a weed, drop her head, “humph.”

I said, “What is it? Surely you weed your plants at home, too!”

She said, “Yes, of course, but not like this. This is awful.”

I couldn’t think of what she would mean by this. How can one pull a weed any differently?

“What do you mean, not like this?” I asked.

“We would never do it this way at home. When we weed a garden there are four women who pull weeds and four women who drum and sing and four women who cook. We do all of the farm and then the next day we go to someone else’s farm and you do something different, so now you sing or you cook,” she said.

Ah, of course. In Minnesota, with our strong WORK ethic, we do everything the hardest way possible. If there is a way to have fun with something, we’re SURE not going to do it. Why is that? And how can we stop doing that? How can we integrate friends, happiness and enjoyment into the “work” part of gardening?

Rebuilding a Social Network

Group pickling event meant we could all share our supplies - no waste!

Group pickling event meant we could all share our supplies – no waste!

The proverb that goes with this principle is “Many hands make light work.”

Quite a few people in the Transition network grow and process their own food. Unfortunately, this means long hours in a hot kitchen during the hottest time of year. Everyone I know wishes they had the summer kitchen of old – where work was done away from the house where you sleep. Makes sense, doesn’t it?

A little waiting but no wasted energy

A little waiting but no wasted energy

Some of us in Transition Longfellow brainstormed a way to share the work and minimize the heat. We asked to use the kitchen at a nearby church, got the kettles going, and then one by one people processed their vegetables in the same hot water bath. We couldn’t save time, but it did save money and energy. We didn’t have six large canners of hot water heating, just one that was used by six people. And we could hang around and talk while waiting.

We haven’t done that since but I think I’ll suggest it for this year.

More often, what’s happened is that different people meet up in their home kitchens to do some work together – usually making jelly or pressure canning stews. The work gets done faster, the kitchen is left cleaner and everyone’s pantry gets filled.

I think this is my favorite principle.

Permaculture Principle 7: Design from Pattern to Detail

Permaculture is a design method and like all design methods it looks at the “big picture” first. It does that with zones, sectors, and functions. Zones, in particular, have been really helpful to me in finding the right place to put things.

Warning – this is a long post. If you are just starting to plan your space, or if your existing space isn’t working for you, I think it will be useful. This method of thinking of space has really helped me put things in their proper place.


Zones are defined by the space and the lifestyle of the person who will be caring for the space. (It could be land or it could be a patio or even indoor space). Zone 1 is the place you visit most frequently and zone 5 is the place you never get to.

It really helps to draw a picture and then be honest with yourself about what area is in what zone. If you don’t know, go to Principle 1 and observe. Where do you go multiple times a day? Where do you go once a day? Where do you go once a week? Where do you never go?

Don’t put things in zone 5 that will require care. It will never happen, no matter how good your intentions. I know I am NEVER going to pay attention to the space on top of the hill by the back of the garage. It’s going to be wild. I am also never going to spend a lot of time in my front yard. Obviously, I can’t let it go wild but anything I plant there had better be able to take care of itself with little maintenance.

Continue reading

Permaculture Principle 6: Produce No Waste

In 2012 we participated in the Three Actions Project. We choose three lifestyle changes that would make our household more sustainable. We had ambitious goals:

  • Eliminate all waste
  • Live within our solar budget
  • Eliminate food waste (my goal)
  • Live within our water budget (my husband’s goal)

We thought we were ready for the “no waste” challenge. We weren’t.

Food packaging was our undoing. It is nearly impossible to buy groceries without packaging! We brought our own jars and bags to the co-op but … I think it’s just not possible to get away from packaging waste if you buy food in the American food system.

Organic Waste

The compost bin that finally worked

The compost bin that finally worked

We had more success with the goal of composting all our food waste. We no longer “throw away” food. Our city composts organic food waste but most of our scraps go to our compost bin or our worm bin. Even in the winter we feed the bins. Sometimes a little animal will get into the outdoor compost bin to find a warm home. That’s okay. They need to survive too and I’m happier if they do it outside rather than in our house.

We no longer bag our fall leaves to give to the city garbage haulers. Now I put it into my fenced garden and let it start to decompose. In the spring, we rake it up and put it on top of the winter food scraps and we watch the magic of composting begin. Our compost bins have hit temperatures of 165 degrees Fahrenheit! We love to see it steaming in the morning.

We also don’t bag our weeds. We practice “in place” composting for some of it, leaving it on the ground to dry up and feed the soil. Others we put into the compost bin. And some nuisance ones we put in a special bin for longer-term composting.

Garden Plastic

That doesn’t mean we don’t have waste from our yard. The most problematic waste is plastic plant containers from our newly purchased plants. These are not accepted at the Hennepin County recycling facility. It’s a long way to drive, but Lowes garden centers in West St. Paul and Shakopee accept black plastic garden pots.

I’m always looking for more information on zero waste. Here are a few websites I’ve learned from:

Permaculture Principle 5: Use and Value Renewable Resources and Services

This principle brings our attention to ecosystem services. Those are services that the natural world handles for us, like providing us with clean water and handling waste by decomposing it into non-toxic elements that can then be reused in the system. It provides a heating and cooling system – though not quite as well regulated as we’d like it to be.

So how do we work with natural systems by using renewable resources? And when we do use them, do we truly value them? Are we mindful to consume only what we need? Do we think about how our actions will impact the ability of the system to regenerate?

Continue reading

Permaculture Principle 4: Apply Self-Regulation and Accept Feedback

For me, this is one of the harder principles to put into action. It’s about setting limits and using resources wisely.

I’m certainly not the only one who has a hard time setting limits. Our planet is giving us some very strong feedback that we’ve put too much greenhouse gas into the atmosphere. It’s reacting with large and forceful hail, increasingly violent storms, torrential rainfalls, droughts and heat waves. Honestly, how could nature be any clearer? And yet we keep on doing just what we’ve been doing. We refuse to acknowledge the feedback because then we’d have to regulate ourselves.

Sigh …

Enough of that. Let’s get to the garden.

A Few Ideas on Self Regulation

How do we start to apply self regulation? One thing we can do is try to provide from our own space/land all the resources that our garden will need and try to handle all the waste on our own land as well.

  • Suppose I couldn’t buy outside compost or fertilizer? How much could I produce on my land? How big would my garden be then?
  • Suppose I didn’t have city water as a backup supply? How much would I need to save or how much smaller would my gardening efforts need to be? How would I change my watering habits?
  • And what if there was no “away” where the garbage could go? How would I change my consumption habits?

Maybe it can’t be done, but what would we learn if we tried?

How Do I Know I Need to Do Something?

One of the tomato survivors of a heavy rain year

One of the tomato survivors of a heavy rain year

Plants are actually pretty good at giving feedback. Last summer my tomato plants told me loud and clear that I had planted them too close. I could hardly move through them to harvest so some fruit spoiled. Their yellow leaves said they needed pruning and I wasn’t giving them good air flow. Then, when heavy rains came, they said I hadn’t given them enough consistent watering so they greedily sucked up too much moisture and cracked. My mistreatment had left them thirsty and vulnerable.

So I acknowledged that feedback and made a plan to do some things different next year.

  • I won’t plant as many tomatoes. I’ll give them room to breathe.
  • I will prune the lower branches out.
  • I bought a rain gauge and I’ll pay attention to how much water they receive in a week so I can supplement it when needed. I’ll keep this on a notecard in the plastic bin with the garden tools.

My husband also gave me some feedback. He said: “Hey, where are the cherry tomatoes!” We discovered two years ago that the garden operates best when we have cherry tomato plants right by the garden gates. Everyone who enters the garden can pop a cherry tomato into their mouth, which always results in a smile as they walk down the path. I’d been so focused on trying new heirlooms, I’d forgotten this crowd pleaser.

My takeaway from that feedback? Write it down!

As much as I hate to have more pieces of paper around the house, I can’t remember everything from year to year. I really need to write down what has been successful and what needs to change. Then I can go over my notes during the leisurely winter months and see what other lessons can be gleaned.

In the long run, accepting feedback save us time because we don’t keep doing thing that don’t work, we don’t lose our anticipated harvest, and we don’t spend money buying plants that won’t grow.

Permaculture Principle 3: Obtain a Yield

This permaculture principle seems obvious, doesn’t it, but I find that it generates some of the most powerful questions I can ask as a gardener.

  • Have I devoted too much of my garden space to plants that aren’t producing much yield? How might I better use my limited space?
  • Are there things I’m not doing that I could be doing to maximize my yields?
  • Are there yields my yard is already producing that I’m not using? Can I use them or should I give them to someone else to use?
  • What other yields could I pursue?

Who’s Not Pulling Their Weight

My husband and I took a walk-through of the garden and asked ourselves, what plants do we have that are just not performing. Our eyes immediately fell on the strawberries. They don’t produce very many and competition is fierce for the berries that make it to ripeness. Birds, bunnies, visitors … we’re lucky if we get a few.

We could double our efforts — add soil amendments, new plants and netting. Or we could decide to meet our needs with the berries that are already growing well in our yard: raspberries, serviceberries, currants and chokecherries (for jelly).

We decided the strawberries could go.

You Can Do Better

Squash hanging from the trellises, saving space.

Squash hanging from the trellises, saving space.

The next plant to come under investigation was the squash. It takes up a lot of space. Last year we moved them into boxes with tall trellises behind them. In the fall we had eight butternut squash hanging behind the trellis – the leaves got plenty of sun and air and the squash were easy to harvest.

We also had some surprise squash that grew in the compost bin! Squash easily cross-pollinate so these were not true to their type. We knew they might not taste good but hey, they were free. We let them go all summer and in the fall we had 25 squash. If I recall, five were not good, 10 were okay but not particularly full flavored and 10 were very good.

So … hmm, should we be using the compost bin for growing?

What’s This For?

I’ve lived here for 20 years and in all that time there have been chokecherry bushes in the front yard. I never knew those berries could be used by people until I started talking to folks at Transition Longfellow who like to forage. I now harvest about 10 lbs. of berries from these bushes each summer and use them to make jelly.

My front flower garden has lots of hardy native flowers.

Echinacea is also called coneflower. It easily grows here.

Last year we learned that the horns of sumac can be used to make lemonade. We dropped the horns into a pitcher of water and left it out in the sun to steep. It’s a weak, but natural and local (!) lemonade. Now I want to learn how it’s used as a spice in Persian cooking.

We also grow Echinacea and yarrow, mint and bee balm, which I know can be used for medicinal or herbal purposes. I just don’t know how. So my next goal is to either learn what to do with them or to find someone who can use them.

Lucky for me, the Transition Group is going to be exploring herbs in 2015.

Personal Permaculture: The Big Picture

This principle led to a particularly good discussion in our 1st Saturday group when we looked at applying permaculture principles in other areas of our life. Are we “obtaining a yield” from our time?

  • Are we generating joy or drudgery from how you use time?
  • Is your space organized in such a way that you can be productive of the things you actually want to produce (not dust :))?
  • Are there things you could do to maximize your productivity – ways you can leverage your time or resources or space? For example, can you rent a room in your house to bring in extra money?
  • Are you obtaining yields from your activities that you just haven’t recognized yet? For example, if you are volunteering in your local community, you may be expanding your social network, learning about available resources, building new skills and making new friends. On the other hand, you might be filling your time with busy work, not making any lasting friendships and not stretching yourself.

This principle gets at one of the biggest questions in life: What do you want to achieve?