This blog has moved!
New posts can be found at http://sweetbeegarden.com/blog.
Hope to see you there!
Just as the season is changing, so is this blog. For years I have wanted to help people live more sustainably, though gardening and homesteading, and I’ve shared my experiences with you though this blog, but I’m excited to take the next step.
I’m starting a new chapter in the book of life, and I’m combining my knowledge, passion and creativity to open a design, consultation and coaching business. Continuing my writing like I have on this blog is a big part of it, so I’m rebranding this blog under my new business name: Sweet Bee Garden.
After this post, I’ll no longer be writing at this address. All new posts can be found at sweetbeegarden.com/blog. I’ll be writing regularly, at least once a week. This site will remain up in case you want to reference an old post, but I’ve also migrated them all the the new blog. It will remain ad-free and sponsor-free, and you can expect the same style of writing and content. I’m making the commitment to write more often, as well as share more detailed how-to projects and garden inspired recipes.
Yep, you read that title right. Dog Vomit Fungus. My garden has it ALL OF THE PLACES!!! Also known as scrambled eggs fungus, it basically looks like the dog was sick all over the place. I’ve taken up calling it mulch puke.
Technically a slime mold, dog vomit fungus usually appears in clumps, growing on mulch, the bases of rotting tree trunks, or other wooden objects. It is most often found in moist, shady areas. We’ve had small spots of it earlier this spring, but today is was everywhere. Why it decided to colonize on the first almost 100 degree day we had, I don’t know, but apparently my garden is a desirable place for it.
Slime molds reproduce by spores that travel by wind. Apparently, they are very resistant, and can survive even during hot, dry weather. The spores can remain viable for several years, waiting for conditions to be right. When conditions are ideal, dormant spores absorb moisture and crack open to release a swarm sphere, and shortly after, the dog vomit appears. It is light yellow when its young, and textured like cauliflower or those old-school Magic Crystal Gardens. As it ages, it turns more brown and firm, eventually developing these yellow streaks that look like gel icing or egg yolk, which I’m pretty sure are the reproductive organs. Sadly I don’t have a picture to share. You’ll just have to imagine it.
Normally I don’t care about fungi that show up in my yard; I actually get excited because it means my soil is alive. Fungus and mushrooms are not diseases, but are organisms that are eating decomposing materials. While not fungi, this slime mold plays the same ecosystem roll. Since I use lots of arbor mulch, I’m not surprised to find it eating up my pathways. One more factor that is improving my soil! In addition to my mulched paths, I’ve also found it on top of the soil in my beds and on the edges of the beds.
Although rare, dog vomit can smother plants if the colony gets big enough. I’m observing it spread right over some of my seedlings and plants, but they seem to be doing fine. The recommendations for getting rid of it is to change out the mulch, or rake out the best you can. It isn’t toxic, so all of that seems way to much effort for something not that big of a deal, that probably won’t go away anyways. So other than poking at it with a stick and proclaiming how weird it is, I’m just letting it be. If you come by my house, don’t worry, Stella is as healthy as can be. Its just the dog vomit fungus!
Today (at least here in the US) is Earth Day, a day traditionally used to inspire and motivate people to lighten their environmental footstep. Chances are, your social media and blog post feeds are filled with advice on how to “live greener”, causes for activism, and a variety of other tips. We’ve all heard and read about all the things we can do to make a difference. This is not another one of those posts.
Instead I wanted to write about the way I think will lead to positive change: how to get to know nature.
In my experience, if you know something or someone, you are emotionally involved and you CARE about what happens. You might see a lost cat poster and feel sad, but you continue about your day. Yet if your own cat goes missing (or child, if you are more in the camp of human children than furry creatures), you will be more deeply affected and go out looking or make calls or post notices. You might read about a wild area being developed a few towns away, but it makes no difference to you. Yet if you played hide-and-seek there as a child and picnic there with your family, you might show up to the planning commission meeting and share your voice on opposing the project.
While I have no psychological training, I’m going to say you have different reactions because you are emotionally connected and involved. I think thats what our earth needs; more emotional connection between the people and the spinning rock we call our home. We don’t need more advice on how or what to recycle because our landfills are filling up, we don’t need more news stories about sea otters dying in oil spills. We need more intimate relationships so we care and these things don’t happen in the first place.
Wether by nature or nurture, I have always loved the natural world and have always felt an deep connection with our Mother Earth. I sum it up to growing up in the middle of nowhere without electricity as an only child: nature was always there, and therefore became by constant companion. I know nature. Nature is a friend. And because of this, I care. This is what drives me for every single choice I make every single day. How are my actions affecting my friend?
But not everyone has made these connection, Mother Earth may still be a stranger to you. And that’s ok, she’s always willing to make new friends.
Here are a few of my tips to get to know your earthly surroundings:
Get outside. This could be an open space preserve, a state park, a local park, a garden, even a well designed parking lot landscape. Spend actual time outside. Once you are there, sit or walk, it doesn’t matter. But get outside. Put your phone away. If you can’t sit still or need “something” to do, write or draw on actual paper.
Look, Think. Look carefully. What kind of things do you see? Journalling is always a good way to capture what you observe. Too much to focus on, or don’t know what to look for, start with this: How many shades of green can you count? Actually try to count them. Why do you think some are lighter than others? Are there similar leaf shapes or sizes in the same shade? Do you have any objects or clothing items that match one of the shades? What other colors do you see? If you were a bird, what leaf would be best to hide under when it rains? If you were a bug, what leaf looks like it would be the yummiest to eat? If you were an animal that lived in this area, where would you go to get water? Where would you sleep? What kind of animals do you think stood in your same spot?
Give things names. Knowing= caring, and names help that. Learn the names of local plants and animals in your area. If you see them again, refer to them by name. If you aren’t sure the correct name, make one up. No idea what that little brown bird is that you see in your garden every morning and the one that pecks at your car side mirror? It might be a towhee, but you could call it a “long tailed mirror bird”. Ever plant has a botanical and a common name; consult books or a local naturalist for the correct name, or make one up that has meaning to you. For years, I knew the weed Dock as Indian Tobacco, because I heard once that the native people smoked it. It didn’t matter that I didn’t know the correct name, but I had a name and being able to identify it made me more connected with the place I was in. Give places within places a name. If you have a bench you sit on during lunch break, give it a name. A favorite section of a regular hike? Give it a name. Notice what it is like in those areas: what you see, hear, smell, feel. Is that similar to other places? When out and about, do you see or feel similar things as that place? Listen. Sit and just listen. How many sounds can you hear? If you are in a wild space, your list might be long with bird calls and wind. How many different birds are making those noises? Do you think its a large bird or a small bird? If you are near civilization, your list might include people or sirens. How might the sounds change based on the time of day? What do you think it sounded like 20 years ago? What will it sound like 10, 20, 100 years from now? Notice. If you are in an area long enough, check out where the sun sets each day. Where is the last place to get a beam of light? What is growing there? What is the first flower to open up in the morning, or the season? Make mental notes. Look to see if that flower grows in other peoples yards or in other wild spaces. Do you think it opens the same time? Repeat. Often. Very few of us can become forever friends with someone by only meeting once. Get outside and critically observe. Regularly.
“Those who contemplate the beauty of the earth find reserves of strength that will endure as long as life lasts” — Rachel Carson
The other morning, I ventured out in my garden. Walking down my mulched pathway, I didn’t get far before I was actually brought to tears. At that exact moment, I saw a hummingbird feeding from bolted broccoli, a flock of tiny goldfinches raising up from eating aphids off my kale, and a nuthatch was jumping around in is crazy upside-down posture on the sides of my raised beds (hopefully eating rolly-pollies).
The birds quickly scattered away, alarmed by my presents, but my garden was still full of life. I saw aphids heavy on my apple tree, but they were being consumed by ladybugs and ladybug larva, solider beetles, and lacewings. Closer examination of my volunteer dill revealed two larva of Anise Swallowtail; I had seen one flittering above a few weeks before. Honeybees, carpenter bees, bumblebees and tiny native bees forage on bolted plants and the handful of flowers I have scattered about. If I turn over soil, I find worms. If I turn over logs I find skinks and occasionally salamanders. There are ladybugs of all life stages in my garden.
People garden for many reasons. Some to collect the newest or rarest specimens, some for stress relief, some for cutting flowers, or some for edibles. While I garden for many reasons, supporting natural life is the main one. Right now I have only edibles and a very few ornamentals planted, but have plans for extensive habitat gardens, including a pond. And despite not having “official” space set aside for the natural creatures, I still have tons of life thriving in my garden. And nothing makes me happier to know that I am creating a safe and healthy place that meets the needs of all these creatures, and even though my yard is a created ecosystem, it is acting as a part of nature.
It is officially chick season! The brooders at feed stores are filled with fuzzy meep-meeps, and if you follow anyone on instagram that’s remotely urban farming/farming/homesteading related, your feed is likely blowing up with pictures of incubating eggs and hatching chicks.
Despite the cuteness, if you are thinking of getting chickens it is very important to know what you’re getting into. While I am not adding anyone new to my own urban flock, I have had an idea incubating for quite some time (get it? incubating? Man, I crack myself up). I thought I’d share a bit more about raising chickens by doing a series of detailing answering some of the questions I am frequently asked.
Which starts us off on the number one question, as soon as someone hears I have hens:
It totally depends. This is probably the answer for almost every garden/chicken/homesteading question ever asked.
There are many factors that determine your egg production: how many hens you have, the time of year, the type of bird, wether or not the bird is broody, the weather, health and stress, how old the hens are, and just general individuality. (Disclaimer: despite proofreading, I’m sure there is an effect/affect error in here somewhere. Just go with it). The number one factor that affects how many eggs I collect is based off how many hens I have. Currently, my flock contains 10 hens. I will never get more than 10 eggs a day. It takes 26 hours for an egg to develop in a hen, so you will basically get one almost every day, if nothing else is factored in. However, there many other things that should be considered.
A hen will usually start laying at around 6 months. A good layer produces about 20 dozen eggs her first year. In the 2nd year, she will produce 16-18 dozen. And so on, with about a 20% reduction each year. A hen can live to up to 15 years old, but usually at around age 3 you’ll notice a significant egg reduction. Commercially, hens are kept until about 2 years. This is the factor that people need to think the most about when getting chicks. What will you do with them after they stop or decrease laying? Some people are fine to keep as pets, some will turn their birds into soup. Either is perfectly ok, but just think about it first. Egg production is also affected by weather. Most lay best between 45-80 degrees. Any colder or hotter, you might see egg production drop. They also slow down or stop completely once daylight hours drop below 14 hours. I have found that younger layers seem to be less affected by daylight hours than older birds. You can extend the daylight by lighting the coop at night, but keep in mind you are disrupting the natural cycle and period of rest. Chickens need 6-8 hours of rest a day. Molting also affects egg production. Molting, or the process of growing new feathers, takes lots of energy and she usually won’t lay during this time. The first molt is around 18 months old, then happens yearly or so. Some birds molt fast, just a few weeks, some take 2-3 months. If a hen goes broody, or the desire to hatch eggs, she stops laying- sometimes for months. This is why you may hear or read about chicken keepers trying to “break” their hens from being broody. If you can discourage the hen, she abandons hopes of hatching, and resumes normal laying. If she does sit and hatch a clutch, production also stops until the chicks are adult enough to not need her, usually a few months. If a hen is sick, bullied, diseased or malnourished, her production will obviously also be affected. Good animal husbandry makes happy, healthy hens but it also makes for a higher egg production. Some breeds are known for being excellent layers, such as the commercial Leghorns, others known for being poor, such as the fancy feathered Polish. In my current flock, my best production comes from my easter-egger, my Maran-Australorp cross, one of my Leghorns, and my Delaware. However, I have one Leghorn who’s just mediocre, and in the past I had an easter-egger that only laid maybe 5 times a year. In my flock, my birds are not pets. I keep chickens for eggs, bug control, weed control, leftovers disposal, and occasionally meat. I rotate though my birds by hatching new ones each year and culling out the older ones, usually around age 3. That way, I almost always have hens laying within their first year while the 2nd year group is molting, and the 3rd year is tapering off. In the dark winter months, I usually get at least an egg a day, usually 1-3. This is plenty to keep my family in eggs. The rest of the year, I get anywhere between 6-10. The average is 8. This keeps us in eggs, as well as extras to barter, gift, and sell.
Also known as agricultural astrology, it is the practice of sowing, transplanting and harvesting according to the cycles of the moon. Evidence of its practice dates back to the early civilizations of the Euphrates River valley and it can be found in the folklore of ancient societies ranging from the Celts in Britain to the Maoris in New Zealand. Roman historian Pliny the Elder wrote about planting by the moon in his History of Nature.
There are two factors that agricultural astrology takes into consideration: the phases of the moon and the signs of the zodiac. The phase of the moons effect the amount of light and, just like how the moon effects tides, it moves the water present in the soil. The zodiac gets factored in because different signs are associated with the different elements, which correlate with different crops and garden activities.
There are many nuances to the moon astrology, and, like everything, there are exceptions for certain plants or certain cycles or periods of transition. I am in no way an expert. A great resource to learn more and see detailed guidelines is from Caren Catterall, at www.gardeningbythemoon.com. She also produces a great calendar that has detailed info for different growing zones and exactly what to do each day based on the zodiac and the moon phases.
It is touted that when plants are sown at the right timing of phase and sign, they will show increased growth, better resiliency against pests, larger harvests, and take longer to go to seed. But, there is not much scientific evidence that astrological gardening has any beneficial effects. I have honestly not taken enough detailed records to notice if it has made a difference in my garden. Of course, there are many other factors that effect plant growth- like seasons and weather and chickens who scratch up your beds.
But in my opinion, a practice that has such deep roots must have some value, so I always take the moon into consideration. At the very least, it makes me more in tuned with the natural cycles of the earth, and you can’t go wrong with that!