Dog Vomit Fungus

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. dog vomit fungus

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. dog vomit fungus

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.  dog vomit fungus

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.  dog vomit fungus

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!dog vomit fungus

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Life in the Garden

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. anise swallowtaillady bug larvaladybug metamorphosis anise swallowtail larva

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.

Gardening By the Moon

This past weekend, I made sure that I planted potatoes, carrots and radishes. Why this weekend? Because it was the full moon, and I try to plant based on the cycles of the moon.  full moon

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.

growing potatoesThere 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.

Confused? Here are some of the main guidelines:

  • New Moon (1st quarter): Gravity from the moon is pulling water up, which balances root and leaf growth. Plant those plants that produce seeds outside of fruit, such as lettuce, spinach, cabbage and grains during this phase.
  • Waxing Moon (2nd quarter): Increasing light from the growing moon is good for leaf growth. Plant those that produce seeds inside of fruits, like beans, melons, peas, peppers, squash and tomatoes at this time.
  • Full Moon (3rd quarter): Energy is drawn down, and after the moon has peaked, the light starts to decrease, good for root growth. Plant root crops, such as beets, carrots, onions, and potatoes. This is also a good phase to transplant.
  • Waning Moon (4th quarter): This is the time of rest and maintenance. Harvest, weed, prune, fertilize, and graft during this moon phase.
  • Zodiac: Consider that water signs are preferred by many plants, roots like earth signs, flowers like air signs, and fire signs are good for harvesting and destroying pests. moon part

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. IMG_3074

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!


How to Garden based on the Moon

Homestead Project: Urbanite Planter Bed

In between rainstorms, I’ve been working on a new project on the homestead: an urbanite planter bed. stacked urbanite wall

This has been a high priority project because this is where I’ve planned for kiwis to be planted. Fuzzy kiwis take about a billion years before they start producing fruit (ok, 5-9- basically a billion), so I wanted to get them as soon as possible. We got the arbor for the female kiwi built when we redid the chicken pasture last year, but just now started on the planter bed.

To prep the bed area, first I weeded out Bremuda grass by hand, then laid a thick layer of cardboard for further weed suppression. Under the area where the concrete was going, I used strips of cotton sheets, to act as further weed barrier and prevent the concrete from cutting up the cardboard (and giving the Bermuda an easy way in). Then, I pieced together chunks of concrete and the occasional rock I’ve hauled home from various adventures, to stack a perimeter wall about 1′ high. The bed isn’t completed, as I first need to MOVE the pile of concrete I’ve been pulling from (placement fail!!) but I’ve backfilled the area that’s created with purchased well-draining soil.drystacking the bedfilling the bedOnce we had the planting area prepped, we went kiwi shopping! In the pouring rain, we picked out the pair of fuzzy kiwis (you need both a male and female for fruit) and managed to load the tall vines into my Civic. They rode shotgun while Matt sat in the back. We planted the female fuzzy kiwi alongside the arbor, using twine to support the branches until it can twine itself. She’s “Vincent” variety, and her mate “Tomuri” will get planted on the other side of the bed to trellis along the fence. buying kiwiskiwis ride shotgun

We also planted one of our potted pomegranate trees into the bed, a Kashmir, and I’ve planted some prostate rosemary to trail down the rock front. I have plans for other plantings, including a handful of strawberries, additional herbs, and pollinator friendly flowering perennials. pomegranate kiwi urbanite bed

Why did we use urbanite, instead of imported stone? There are several reasons, the main being it was free. Last June, we broke up our concrete ‘patio’, yielding me with giant piles of urbanite. You can read about that project here. Reusing materials is an important aspect of ecological gardening- no new materials needed to be mined or transported, reducing the environmental impact of my garden. I also chose to use the urbanite because the stacked concrete and stone will create habitat for lizards and other invertebrates. It’s a multi-use function to create a usable space and a wildlife habitat. stacked rocks for habitat home

The bed still needs to be finished, but I’m glad one more aspect of the homestead has moved from “planning” to “in process!”reach for the sky

How are your spring projects coming?

What’s Happening To My Plant? Bolting Explained

If you are new to gardening, you may notice some of your veggies are taking on a new appearance. Leafy greens are growing tall and lanky, cauliflowers and broccoli heads are no longer dense and clustered, root crops are getting hairy. Fear not, your plant has not been abducted by aliens! It’s simply going though part of its life span known as bolting.bolting kale

All vegetable plants go though a cycle: seed germination, grow leaves, flower, bear fruit/seeds, die. Depending on the type of plant, we eat them at different stages in their life. Spinach, for example, get eaten in the grow phase. Tomatoes are the fruit/seed stage. Plants grown for their leaves (or in the case of broccoli and cauliflower, undeveloped flower heads) will bolt.

bolting spinach
bolting spinach

You can tell when a leafy plant is starting to bolt because first they lengthen in height, with individual leaves growing farther and farther apart, then flower heads appear, eventually bursting into bloom. You can sometimes delay bolting by breaking off the flowers or the lengthening stalk.

Cavolo nero kale starting to flower
Cavolo nero kale starting to flower

Some will bolt when it starts getting warm. Some when it gets to cold. Some simply because they have been alive for a lot time. Some plants bolt quickly after planting (like bok choy), some take forever (like red russian kale). Most commonly, plants that were planted in the fall will bolt when spring approaches. In my garden, that’s right now.

bolting parsley
bolting parsley

Although the plant is still edible during bolting, it usually isn’t very good. Energy is going into flower and seed production, so the plants get bitter, stronger tasting, and generally not very palatable. Now is usually the time to pull the plants, add to the compost or feed to the chickens, and make space for new plantings.

hauling away bolted radishes
hauling away bolted radishes

However, if you have the space, I strongly advocate to leave the plant and let it flower. Bolted veggies, such as arugula, broccoli, radish, carrots, cilantro, and parsley produce lovely flowers for some early color in the yard, and they are excellent for bees and beneficial insects. On my bolted broccoli alone, I’ve spotted bumble bees, honey bees, carpenter bees, tiny native bees, and ladybugs.

bolted radishbee on broccoli bolted arugulamating carpenter bees

Planting Seed Tapes & How They Grow

A few weeks ago I posted about my DIY Seed Tapes, but I wasn’t actually sure how they would grow. It isn’t quite time for me to plant carrots, which were the tapes I made previously, but I was curious to see if they worked as well as I had hoped. So I decided to do a quick experiment, and I whipped up some radish tapes. Now radish seeds are significantly larger than carrot, so therefore not as much of a pain in the ass to seed, but you still have to deal with the straight rows, the washing away of seeds, and the hunched over the bed issues. Because they grow very quickly, they make the perfect subject for my experiment. I’m happy to report that the tapes are a success!

I made one tape of Pink Beauty from Baker Creek, and one tape of Cherry Belle from Botanical Interest.

planting seed tapes

To plant the tape, I simply scraped aside a layer of soil to the depth I wanted (1/2″), and laid down the tape. Then, I pushed the soil back over until the paper was covered.

planting seed tapeFor comparison, I planted a row of direct seeded next to the tape seeded, and labeled accordingly. I was wondering if the tape affected germination rates.

comparing seed tape to direct sowing

Then, I watered as normal, and waited about 6 days. Comparing germination

Between the two varieties, I had about the same germination rate. Between the tapes and the direct seeded, I had about the same germination rate, with a slight gain in the tapes. This could be because some of my direct seed was too deep, a rolly-polly munched it down, or a numerous other reasons. But if you look closely, you can see that the tape seeded row has a significant advantage: the row is perfectly straight. This doesn’t really matter much in the grand scheme of things, but I like my root crops to be in straight rows. Even though I direct seeded straight, seeds inevitably move with watering.

growing radishes

Now that I know this is a viable solution, I’ll be making many more! It will be the perfect gardening project to undertake during this forecasted 10-days of rain.

How Does Your Garden Grow? Different Gardening Methods Explained

Mary, Mary, quite contrary,
How does your garden grow?

In today’s world, Mistress Mary might have a hard time describing exactly how she gardens. Silver bells and cockle shells aside, if you look at the gardening section of your library or bookstore or search the interwebs, its easy to get overwhelmed by all the different styles and theories and methods. Square-foot gardening, intensive gardening, organic gardening, permaculture, native, gardening companions….so many ways to garden!  If you’re wondering what they mean and what would work best for you, read on!

Different gardening methods explained

Here’s a basic breakdown:

Organic Gardening can be summed up to not using synthetic fertilizers or pesticides (things like Round-up or Miracle Grow). Organic gardening can apply to any type of landscape, edible or not. It is a huge umbrella term, acting as the foundation of many other methods of gardening that take the concept further.

Instead of chemical fertilizers, in my organic garden I grow cover crops. I encourage beneficial insects to keep pests in check.
Instead of using chemical fertilizers in my organic garden I grow cover crops. I encourage beneficial insects to keep pests in check instead of spraying pesticides.

Permaculture Gardening is a holistic design approach and has been touted as “extreme organic gardening”. Permaculture gardens consider systems (water, energy, food, etc.) and utilizes techniques to live sustainably. Permaculture has a fundamental understanding of ecology and nature, such as concepts of niche, biodiversity, climate, soil, and watersheds. Designs follows listed guidelines (ranging from 4-40, depending on the publication), and include things like choosing elements that have multiple functions, design for resilience, and mimic nature.

There are many ways that permaculture principles can be implemented into the garden. On my homestead, some of the permaculture concepts I’ve utilized include earthworks, rainwater catchment systems, sheet mulching, tree guilds and growing perennial edible crops. Other common principles seen in residential scale are building with cobb (a natural clay/straw medium), spiral gardens, food forests, keyhole gardens and anything that “stacks functions”.

An example of stacking functions: my chicken run roof both collects rainwater and shades my curing garlic.
An example of stacking functions: my chicken run roof both collects rainwater and shades my curing garlic.

Biointensive Gardening is a method that maximizes yield while increasing fertility of the soil. This is achieved by a very specific technique of soil preparation called double-digging. This concept, sometimes also called the French Biodynamic Method was brought to the US by Alan Chadwick, and made popular though the amazing Chadwick Garden at my alma-mater, UCSC. Biointensive gardening also implement plant rotations, close spacing, and compost, compost, compost. Biointensive methods are often used in smale-scale sustainable agriculture, but can work in a home vegetable plot just as well.

In my mom's garden, she gets immense yields from her double-dug beds that are regularly amended with compost.
In my mom’s garden, she gets immense yields from her double-dug beds that are regularly amended with compost.

Square-Foot Gardening is relatively new to the gardening method club, and was invented by a civil engineer. It follows a very specific technique of using a 4′ by 4′ raised bed and the planting space in specific 1′ by 1′ areas. A variety of plants are then grown, but each has its own square, within the bed, and spaced according to the method’s guidelines. You can find out more about square-foot gardening on it’s website here. While I have not used the square foot method exactly, I do plant close together, and grow multiple varieties in one space.

multi crops in one bed
Last year’s summer garden beds were a mix of closely planted sunflowers, zinnia, dill, squash, beans, tomatoes and nasturtium. Pretty sure there was some basil in there, too.

Three Sisters, Companion Planting, & Planting Guilds are all very similar methods, and are based on the theory of beneficial relationships amongst plants. The Three Sisters is a well known one: beans, corn and squash are planted together. The beans fix nitrogen, the corn provides a pole for the beans to climb, and the squash shades the ground to suppress weeds and conserve moisture. Another common example is growing basil with tomatoes, to improve the tomatoes’ flavor and help ward off diseases.

Marigolds are a popular companion plant, as they are believed to discourage nematodes.
Marigolds are a popular companion plant, as they are believed to discourage nematodes.

Ecological Gardening may not be an official gardening method, but its what I use to describe how I garden. I mix and match practices from all sorts of gardening styles, but always under one theory: my garden is as much for me as it is for the nature and the earth. I let seed heads and “dead stuff” stand for the birds. I plant flowers for both bees and insects, and let veggies bolt for flush of flowers. I keep water available for the birds, the bees and the bugs. I keep piles of rocks and sticks for insect habitat. As a result, I’m surrounded by nature at all times, which makes my heart sing and my soul nourished. sunflower headscosmomantis on sunflowerbee on radishsunflower seeds

Is there a gardening method that I forgot? How do you garden? Please leave me a comment below! Remember, you don’t need an account, just an email to ensure you’re not a robot. I love hearing from you!