In Search of Wild Carrots
Wild Carrots, Wildlife and Seeds
I confess that my gardening methods have been a little on the wild side this year. I’ve allowed a number of plants such as carrots, Kale and Broccoli, as well as flowers, grasses and so called weeds to fulfil their lifecycle and go over to seed.
Not only has this been interesting to watch, it’s been a magnet for wildlife and birds.
Seed Cultivation and Natural Perfection
I’ve certainly learnt a few things about my horticultural limitations. Especially in developing a small space garden, with a view to incorporate as much of the principles of permaculture as without being completely over run with nettles.
Having allowed last years carrots and leeks go over to seed, I discover how complicated it is to actually cultivate crops when left to natures own devices. The very dilemma farmers have been facing for centuries. How to grow a successful crop when it is exposed to nature. Hence the development of all those nasty chemicals and intensive farming methods.
Is there a balance between Permaculture and Horticulture?
The problem with letting nature take it’s course is that natures idea of a carrot, just isn’t the same as ours anymore. The recent trends towards reviving heritage varieties and saving seeds to reintroduce them into mainstream propagation is indeed highly commendable. But is this in fact a search for a natural perfection?
How to propagate the perfect carrot
To give you an idea of the complexity of propagating carrots, a biennial crop by the way, so not a time saver. Here is a great video from the Heritage Seed Library. They do a fantastic job, and their dedication is inspiring. I dread to think what the future would be like if they weren’t preserving our heritage, and companies like Monsanto continue to poison our food chain for profit.
The Seed Garden
My ambition to harvest as many seeds from biennials hasn’t been completely unsuccessful. I still have hope for the leeks. Not to mention the joy I’ve had from the display of flowers and the variety of wildlife they’ve attracted to the garden. But as the Heritage Seed Library video shows, collecting carrot seeds to produce a clone of the variety sown, is a tricky business. Those pollinators just love to travel, so the odds are it’s not going to happen for me anyway.
Do you know your Wild Carrots from your Cow Parsley?
One thing that came to mind was how familiar the carrot flower heads were. The Leeks were clearly in the Allium family, along with onions and chives to name just two. Carrot flower heads however reminded me of Cow Parsley aka Queen Ann’s Lace. So it got me wondering if I had been missing something all these years. As Cow Parsley is so prolific along our pathways, have I been overlooking the Wild Carrot? Well yes I have, because they are the same thing. It’s just one of those things I’d never picked up on I guess. Until now.
Of course I now needed to go out and find some.
Wild Carrots and Hemlock
How to tell the difference between Wild Carrot (aka Cow Parsley, Queen Ann's Lace) and Hemlock.
Hemlock if you’re lucky enough not to have come into contact with it, is highly poisonous if eaten. The sap also causes blisters and burns if touched. It is fairly common in the UK and looks remarkably like Cow Parsley.
The first thing to point out is that they actually flower at different times of the year, which is good, Hemlock will flower in the spring and Cow Parsley is at it’s best during the summer months.
From the stock shots you’ll notice a difference in the clustering of the flowers, Cow Parsley is more densely clumped than Hemlock, Cow Parsley also has a red flower at the centre.
The stems are different as well. Cow Parsley has a covering of fine hairs, like small spikes or stubble, whereas Hemlock stems are smooth. Hemlock stems also have random purple blotches and the Cow Parsley is a uniform green colour.
But if in doubt, just don’t touch.
But then stock shots are easy to compare, so I went out to look for myself, taking the dog for company along part of The Essex Way.
The Art of Queen Ann's Lace
I’ve read that the name ‘Queen Ann’s Lace’ came from a story that whilst making lace, the Queen pricked her finger drawing a spot of blood, also that the Queen set a competition to the ladies of the house to make a lace work as fine as the flower. Not to put her to shame, no one would make anything to rival the queen’s work, so she won and the flower named after her.
Given the expected abundance of Cow Parsley, I had no doubt that I would find some in full bloom as soon as I arrived at the beginning of our walk. But the scorching summer had taken it’s toll on the hedgerows and even these had gone to seed in haste.
Braving the heat, the pooch and I carried on until we reached what we locals call ‘The Grayson Perry House’. Otherwise known as ‘A House for Essex‘ and found that Queen Ann’s Lace had become part of the surrounding natural art instillation.
Satisfied that Hemlock had not threatened us along our walk, and with the potential site of a wild carrot harvest now on the map, the Labradoodle and I went on our Essex Way.
The Seed Harvest
The carrots from the garden will now be assigned to the compost. The site they occupy however is designated for a seed crop ready to fulfil it’s cycle. The Kale seeds are popping from their tiny shells like miniature black peas. So no shortage of the green stuff this winter.
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