Friday, August 2, 2013

Mystery Mushroom

Leucocoprinus birnbaumii (?)
You may have had this experience.  You have a plant, large or small, summer comes, its warm, the thing is being watered well, and suddenly there are neon yellow mushrooms cohabitating with your plant.

"What do I do?!?" you think, and "where did I go wrong?"  Nothing* and nowhere.

If you have a small child or dog with compulsive hand to mouth syndrome (eats whatever it touches), you might remove the mushrooms, the species is not edible.  But otherwise, they harm no one, certainly not your plant.  Though some fungi are parasitic or pathogenic, in general fungi of the mushroom type are nothing more than an indication of the presence of decaying organic matter.  In this case, potting soil.  Many fungi are even beneficial.  To learn more about that, read up on mycorrhizae. 

This, however, is just a mushroom.  I believe the species is Leucocoprinus birnbaumii.  They get into the soil from other plants, spores in greenhouses and garden centers, and in potting soil (or potting soil components if you mix your own like I do) that is not fully sterilized.  You can remove the mushrooms, but these are only fruiting bodies, the bulk of the organism is living quietly beneath the surface in a vast network of fine mycelia.  I suggest you just enjoy their obnoxiously yellow presence for the few days they are present.

If anyone is interested, according to The Rainbow Beneath My Feet by Arleen and Alan Bessette,  the species produces beige to yellowish brown dye depending on mordant.  Bummer, I really hoped it would be sunshine yellow.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Eastern Dobsonfly, Corydalus cornutus

Eastern Dobsonfly, Corydalus cornutus
These lovely critters are Eastern Dobsonfles, Corydalus cornutus, one female (horizontal bug in photo; short mandibles) and one male (diagonal; long mandibles).  These insects are 4-5 inches in length, impressive in appearance, but harmless.

This year I have sighted them more often than in previous years, and I saw a similar comment on What's that bug? leading me to believe their population has been improving.  In the larval stage, they are aquatic as well as predatory (and, if possible, more creepy looking), and likely owe any resurgence to the same source as the increasing numbers of frogs, eagles, etc.  Though I'm sure the populations of none of these are what they once were, I think there are definite improvements.  I'd like to think people are starting to take responsibility for water quality and habitat preservation, but it may be nothing more than the days of willy-nilly spraying of DDT is now far enough behind, allowing some ecological recovery.  A great review article about dobsonflies on the Univeristy of Florida website mentions that dobsonflies have been suggested as a good indicator for environmental monitoring studies.

The article mentions above also explains many other interesting facts about the species.  They spend 1-3 years as larva, living in clean water, under rocks and such, feeding on other insects.  They then pupate about 3 weeks to reach their adult stage, shown above.  As adults, they live 3-8 days to mate and finish out their life cycle.  Seeing one, therefore is a rare treat, like seeing a luna moth.  I feel exceptionally lucky to have seen this pair together.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Eggs, fresh off the lawn

Continuing with the eat local theme, thought I'd share how the first eggs from our spring chickens were enjoyed.


This is the contents of only 6 eggs from our young hens.  Count the yolks.  I actually cracked 6 eggs and three of them were twins!  And none of these was a normal sized egg - young hens lay small eggs when they first start out.  Only fitting, they're not yet full size hens.  But to see so many twins?!

These eggs were scrambled, seasoned with cracked black pepper, salt, garlic, tarragon, and smoked spanish paprika.  I believe there may also have been some cheese involved, but I don't remember what cheese.  Likely something aged and slightly ripe.  They were then fried up in a generous amount of butter on an iron skillet, and served with carrots and kale from the garden, as well as a generous slab of heirloom tomato from the local market, all piled on a gluten free rice tortilla.


mmmm....  After taking the picture I decided it needed a little dijon mustard too.  I like the Annie's dijon - a little saucy, but not overly horseradish-y flavored.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Eat Local Challenge

No posts for months and two in one day?  Yeah, I know, sorry about that.
This one has a community type motive.  My friend JoannaSpring over at Knit Spin Farm is having her second-annual eat local "Eat-Along".  In this, viewers are challenged to eat something they grew or which was sourced from local farms.  Eating local is supporting your local farmer, a chance to know the source of your food and support small business, a chance to safeguard the foodshed and local knowledge about producing it.  It is many good things.

I'd suggest try to make at least some of every meal local foods.  You might find it is great fun to seek them out.  Find the local farmer's markets, farms which sell direct, pick-your-owns, co-ops and boutiques that sell local products.  Its not just fruits and veggies, either.  There are farms local to me which sell also fantastic honey, eggs from pasture-kept hens (and ducks!  OMG, duck eggs...), cow & goat & sheep dairy, meats of all sorts, herbs and flowers.

For my part, my half-assed garden will provide the bulk of the goods (by volume).  Fortunately for me, kale is easy to grow, and I always sow carrots even if I don't tend them.  I love root crops, harvesting them is like a treasure hunt.



This is a very easy eat-local / eat-from-the-garden.  We have here purple carrots in fresh kale from the garden, with some cheese and leftover sausage (from the grocery).  The dressing contains also fresh thyme and basil from the garden, with balsamic and coconut vinegar, aleppo pepper, black pepper, salt, garlic, ginger, olive oil.  Ta-da!

PS:  I highly recommend using raw kale in place of lettuce for all kinds of purposes.  It never gets gross and soggy, and is very filling.

Praying Mantis babies!

This post is overdue, I took the photos at the end of May.  They still may be educational.


Look closely!  What you are seeing is newly hatched praying mantises on strawberry plants.  They were about a centimeter long.  There are two in the one below, but the second is blurry.  Sorry about that.


I was able to tell they were newly hatched because there were so many among the plants.  Within a day or two after hatching they begin to disperse throughout the area in search of food.  They grow rapidly and reach adult size by the end of summer.  In this area, around September or so they lay their eggs, which are housed in a foamy-looking papery case, usually attached to a twig.  See below.


Be on the lookout for these in your garden while pruning.  If you find one, leave it in place and prune that section the following summer.  You want these guys in your garden.  Not only do they look awesome, but they are predatory insects, making meals of such undesirable things as grasshoppers and stink bugs when larger, as youngsters of course they must select bugs more appropriate to their size.

Predatory insects you should be kind to:
  • Lady Bugs and several other tiny round beetle like critters that eat aphids, mealybugs, etc.  Familiarize yourself especially with what young ladybugs look like - nymphs are very different.
  • Praying mantis
  • Assassin Bugs or Cog Bugs - do look this one up, they are very creepy looking
  • Centipedes and Millipedes - I generally want to mash centipedes, but I have personally witnessed them at the hunt, so I tolerate them.
  • Spiders of all kinds!  Seriously, spiders are awesome, and contrary to paranoid beliefs of many they are not out to get you.  Do, however, feel free to mash black widow and brown recluse spiders, but familiarize yourself with how they look to prevent unnecessary deaths.
There are many others, of course, and likely you are aware of some or all of these.  But it bears repeating - these will be of assistance to you.  Encouraging them takes time, and pesticides can kill your friends as well as undesirables.  Also meadow and other 'wild' garden spaces provide the territory for them to establish and thrive.  A "well tended" lawn is essentially a desert.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

A visitor

Unidentified Crab Spider
This little lady was found laying in wait on some mounted plants.  Due to her color, she is nearly invisible when she is curled up on the back of a piece of cork.  On the front, she is more visible.  I was unable to figure out what species she is, but due to body type and her habit of sitting down and folding her legs up so that she looks like a wee spot of mud on the cork tells me she is a crab spider.  These are hunting spiders, like jumpers, and don't weave webs.  Crab spiders are also often called flower spiders, as many species are colored to blend in well on flowers, and prefer to hide among petals to wait for a chance to catch bugs.

To see more cool bugs and learn about them, I recommend visiting What's That Bug?

I hope she eats stink bugs.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Happy Holidays

Aloe barbadensis (vera)

We like an alternative Christmas tree.  Every year, one or two unlucky plants get pulled for ornament duty.  :)

I believe this to be Aloe barbadensis, or some near similar hybrid.  It came to me without a tag.  Its a large, beastly plant, and I have divided out many pups from it over the years in a vain attempt to manage its size.  The normal blooming season for these would be around early Spring, attracting hummingbirds if it was outside.  However, frequently this guy blooms for me in the late fall, soon after it comes inside.  I assume the sudden change from exposure to temperatures of 45 or 50F (7-10C) overnight to constant 68 (20C) makes it think spring has come early.  That scape is nearly 5 feet high (150cm), but that includes the height of the pot.