Masterful Mantis 3/31 make-up

When insect pests are truly out of control, and no spraying/treatments are working on your plants, sometimes just by adding in the right bugs, the bad ones are no longer a problem. Praying mantis is a great example of this. They are exclusively carnivorous, meaning they do not eat plant material at all and only survive on the other bugs it can prey on and eat.  This is the ideal pest control.

Mantis eggs are laid in the autumn, and hatch in spring when it warms up. They have a lifespan of about a year (hence how popular of pets they are.) Their eggs are readily available at many nurseries and on countless vendors online. To hatch a brood, all one must do is hang the egg cluster in some foliage, near the environment where the pests are present. But the eggs must only be hung in the spring/summer or else the cold weather will prevent them from hatching, eventually killing the brood. Ideally, to have a consistent population of mantis, one would probably have to purchase or try and raise a new brood every season, this is because they do not tolerate colder seasons and are very slow to reproduce, for their life spans are long and their life styles are rather solitary.

So before your reach for another bottle of plant soap or insecticide, consider using more bugs to fight the pests!

Plant and Prosper!

Savory Saffron! 3/24 make-up

Crocus Sativus or saffron crocus is a flowering plant revered for the spice called saffron which is cultivated from its flowers. This autumn-flowering perennial plant species is unknown in the wild. Human cultivation of saffron crocus and use of saffron have taken place for more than 3,500 years and spans different cultures, continents, and civilizations, and it is being grown and cultivated in the Mediterranean, and East Asia. The fragrance and taste found in saffron is a result of the compounds picrocrocin and safranal. It also contains a cartenoid pigment (found in carrots) called crocin, which gives the spice its red/orange color. Saffron has been traded and sold for four millennia all over the world. About 90% of the worlds saffron has been grown in Iran. Its is believed Crucus Sativus is a mutant species, hence its male sterility, meaning it cannon reproduce naturally, and needs human intervention to propagate the plants.

Crocus sativus thrives in the Mediterranean maquis, an ecotype superficially resembling the North American chaparral, and similar climates where hot and dry summer breezes sweep semi-arid lands. It can nonetheless survive cold winters, tolerating frosts as low as −10 °C and short periods of snow cover.

Saffron’s aroma is often described by connoisseurs as reminiscent of metallic honey with grassy or hay-like notes, while its taste has also been noted as hay-like and sweet. Saffron also contributes a luminous yellow-orange coloring to foods. Saffron is widely used in Persian, Indian, European, and Arab cuisines.

Because of the reproductive failure of this species, and its highly demanded and desired flavor and aroma, saffron is easily the most expensive spice by weight. But honestly, in a small scale cultivation of saffron at home is not difficult (at least here in WA.) I have cared for and grown a couple plants and accumulated several grams of spice over the flower season.

So if you are interested in the cultivation of expensive herb or spice, look no further than saffron for its value and rarity is unmatched.

Plant and Prosper!

Mosquito Repellers 3/17 make-up

horsemint

horsemint

As the outdoor season approaches, many homeowners and outdoor enthusiasts look for ways to control mosquitos.

But many commercial insect repellents contain from 5% to 25% DEET. There are concerns about the potential toxic effects of DEET, especially when used by children. Children who absorb high amounts of DEET through insect repellents have developed seizures, slurred speech, hypotension and bradycardia. There are new DEET-free mosquito repellents on the market today which offer some relief to those venturing outdoors in mosquito season. But there are also certain plants which are easy to grow and will have some effect in repelling mosquitoes from areas of your home and garden.

Citronella or also known as lemon grass is one of the most popular botanical ingredients in mosquito repellents. Products like lemon grass candles also work in detering mosquitos, but a living plant is the most effective, for it is so aromatic that it makes it difficult for the mosquitos to smell and notice you. Citronella is a very easy growing grass that do in the ground as well as containers.

Also known as Beebalm, Horsemint is an adaptable perennial plant which repels mosquitoes much the same as citronella. It gives off a strong incense-like odor which confuses mosquitoes by masking the smell of its usual hosts. Horsemint leaves can be dried and used to make herbal tea. Its flowers will also attract bees and butterflies to your garden.

Catnip is a natural mosquito repellent. In August 2010, entomologists at Iowa State University reported to the American Chemical Society that catnip is ten times more effective than DEET, the chemical found in most commercial insect repellents. According to Iowa State researcher Chris Peterson, the reason for its effectiveness is still unknown. “It might simply be acting as an irritant or they don’t like the smell. But nobody really knows why insect repellents work.”

So now that summer is here and the mosquitos will be everywhere, consider using the essential oils from these plants on your skin to deter them, or better yet, plant them in your garden!

Plant and Prosper!

Hello Yarrow!

Yarrow, or Achillea millefolium is an odd little plant found almost everywhere in the world. I recently purchased a decent sized one a few weeks ago at Flower World because of the useful things I have heard it can provide. Yarrow is similar to Angel hair ferns, because of their erect stature, and technically each frond of the plant is a plant on its own with its own roots, meaning propagation really doesn’t get any easier with plants like these. Anyways, yarrow has been cultivated all over the world for a very long time, its usage was recorded by many Native American tribes, and by other civilizations. It is generally only used as a medicinal plant, for it is a powerful diaphoretic, astringent, tonic, and a stimulant, among other things. History mainly describes it as a useful ingredient for treating flesh wounds, for it encourages the body to direct blood flow away from cuts and injuries. But other than being a widely used medicine and food, yarrow also makes a wonderful companion plant for a garden. Like comfrey, yarrow roots very deep, pulling up rich nutrients for its neighboring plants. But also, yarrow deters certain insect pests, while also attracting predatory wasps and other beneficial insects that prey on other pests instead of the plants. They also attract lady bugs and hoverflies, which pollinate plants instead of eating them. This plant is also really good at repairing eroded soils by retaining deep soil water and keeping the damaged medium more moist. 

There is so much more to this plant I can babble on about, but instead, consider picking up a colony of yarrow and see its benefits in your garden for yourself.

Plant and Prosper!

Peziza Problems

So here is an update on my morel bed that was constructed a few months back. But unfortunately, this is an update that I am not particularly happy about. So the bed was only inoculated with a block of morel mycelium, for I had only planned to have morel mushrooms in the bed, but it seems like we have some volunteer mushrooms, and I have no idea whether to be concerned or not. On the 31st of May, I decided to check the bed to see how it was looking (of course I was not expected morels, for the mycelium had only been put in the bed this season,) and I was very surprised/perplexed by what I found; the bed had some sort of ‘cup’ fungi fruiting in the compost. They are like any other mushroom, but to the untrained eye they might not seem like it. Instead of having a cap and stalk, they grow in a cup shape directly from their substrate, and they have a gel like flesh that is easily damaged.

Anyways, I am not super surprised to see them. First, the medium we inoculated with the mycelium was not sterilized or pasteurized in any way, for I thought that an microbial environment would be more natural for the morel mycelium, meaning the spores of these different mushrooms could have already been in the medium we used. Second, after doing some research I think these cup mushroom are in the Peziza genus of fungi, which I learned is very found of woody mediums that has been burned, which is very similar to what Morchella species like to fruit on. So all the medium we added to the bed, was pretty perfect for the Peziza fungi, despite it being meant for the morels. I will need to conduct more research to see if they have the potential to out compete the morel mycelium, but I cannot know anything for sure till we expect morel mushroom next spring.

Plant and Prosper!

Close up of Peziza mushroom

Close up of Peziza mushroom

all the spots the Peziza popped up in the morel bed

all the spots the Peziza popped up in the morel bed

Comfrey Craze

Comfrey, or more specifically; Symphytum officinale, is a pretty unassuming herb. But it is gaining huge traction among organic farmer and gardeners due to its great versatility. It is a low, bushy herb that prolifically grows more leaves everyday. This plant its gaining a reputation because of how amazing it makes as a companion plant or as a part of a compost blend. It produces large tuber like roots that will grow down in soil up to six feet deep! But because of this depth, the plant pulls rich and valuable nutrients from the deep soil, feeding nearby plants as well. But more often, comfrey is harvested and is used as a compost ingredient or compost activator. Its deep roots help it accumulate tons of nitrogen into the leaves, and plenty of potassium, which are vital for nice flowers and bigger veggies. Comfrey leaves can be added to a compost heap, its abundance of nitrogen help with feeding the microbes and helps keep the heap warm, accelerating the compost digestion. Or comfrey leaves can be rotten down into a liquid, and after diluting, it can be turned into a compost tea that can be sprayed or fed to other plants. Its biomass can also be layed down on medium to create a mulching layer that boosts the amount of potassium and nitrogen in the top soil.

There is so much more to this plant that I dont have the space to write about, but please before reaching for bagged fertilzier, consider using plants alone to do the feeding of other plants.

Plant and Prosper!

Bright Bryophytes !

Bryophytes or widely known as moss, are odd species of plants are often overlooked because of how greatly they are distributed all over the world, especially here in the PNW. Despite them being rather unpopular in research fields and among people, moss plays a huge role in ecosystems and ultimately the health of our planet. Many people remove moss from their gardens/yards without much thought, just because at first glance they do not really add much, but they are so much more to them than often recognized. I personally think mosses can be a great ground cover or a decorative plant in general, but other than the aesthetic appeal, they can add a lot to your garden and our environment.

First, having a strong colony of moss nearby a veggie garden is a really good deterrent for bugs and animals that like to prey on our plants. Mosses naturally produce bitter compounds that is meant to make predators avoid eating them, but this can also help protect nearby plants. But despite these compounds, moss makes a great habitat for beneficial insects, salamanders, and frogs that ultimately help protect your plants from predators and disease.   More widely known, mosses are incredible at water retention and air purification. Moss can hold entire ecosystems together during dry spells because of how much water they help circulate and store. Moss is also on par with large trees when it comes to cleaning air pollution. They filter air very well and also make great indicator species for air pollution/quality. So if you ever consider ripping out the moss from your garden, please consider the impacts it may have and if it would really be worth it. Or maybe you are like me, and adore the idea of establishing an entire moss garden just for fun, its becoming a very interesting trend!

Plant and Prosper!

Planning for the season

Now that spring is in full motion and summer is around the corner, it is time to either revive your plants or put some new veggies into the ground. Last summer, we had a few tomato, squash and pepper plants in the small lot of dirt that sits right along the back wall of our house. The pepper plants gave us a decent amount of jalapenos, but other than that, the other plants were not entirely happy and did not produce much. Our tomatoes fruited but never got any bigger than cherry tomatoes, and the squash only blossomed and died.  We concluded rather confidently that the house/placement of the patch was to blame for the failure of most of the plants. The soil and microbes in the soil we planted in was pretty mature and developed, but the problem was, the house created shadows over the patch for the entire second half of a summer day, depleting most of the plants.

This year we are planting similar plants in the same place, (after clearing out all the weeds that took back over) but this time, we have a possible compromise for the new plants. We cannot solve the sun light issue, but when me and my family went to the Cascadia Mushoom farm, we had brought home a large bag of Wine Cap spawn. This bag of mycelium will eventually be inoculated into the soil of the patch once the plants are well established. This mycelium will begin to spread through the soil, and will eventually find plant roots which it will surround and penetrate. Wine Cap mycelium is especially good at breaking down dead matter into more elemental parts, which plants can absorb much easier. The idea is, that the extra nutrients/sugar coming from the mycelium will make up for the lost sunlight for the plants, giving us an improved yield, and hopefully some big yummy wine caps along with it. More updates will be posted after the inoculation!

Plant and Prosper!

Bag of Stropharia Rugosoannulata spawn, ready to go into the ground!

Bag of Stropharia Rugosoannulata spawn, ready to go into the ground!

 

Cascadia Mushroom Farm

Over the weekend my family and I took a trip over to Bothell to visit one of the largest mushroom farms in the state. The Cascadia Mushroom farm is home to three main species they cultivate. They have a variety of strains for oyster, pioppini, and mainly shiitake mushrooms, they also used to cultivate reishi as well, which is still sold from their dried storage. This small scale commercial farm incubates about 12,000 spawn bags at a single time, not including the mature bags they have in the fruiting room where mushrooms are cultivated. We were told on a normal week, they harvest about 500 pounds of mushrooms a week. This quarter ton of mushrooms get distributed to multiple grocery stores, to high-end restaurants and farmers market stands. There is a decent chance that the last batch of oyster, shiitake or pioppini mushrooms you bought at your local WA grocery store came straight from Cascadia Mushrooms.

They use organic materials to use as substrate for their mushrooms. They mostly use local straw, local wheat bran, and local sawdust. These materials would likely be burned if it was not sent to the farm as they are mostly byproducts from wheat and animal farms, and the sawdust comes from a local wood milling company that only uses their dust as a burning fuel source for the mill. So the farm utilizes basically waste products from other farms and turns them into food and amazing compost. The spent spawn that the mushrooms grow from will eventually be piled up and broken down into a potent compost which is then sold back to local farms to use. So consider to take a trip to Cascadia Mushroom farm or another local produce grower and take a close look at where our food really comes from and meet the people who are responsible for it.

Plant and Prosper!

Founder Alex Winstead holding a fruiting block of shiitake mushrooms

Founder Alex Winstead holding a fruiting block of shiitake mushrooms

I am for IMO’s.

‘Indigenous microorganisms’ or IMO is a term keyed by Dr.Cho Han-Kyu who established the school of Janong which is an organization in South Korea that is dedicated to educate farmers and the public of the practice of pure natural farming. This school has developed a very structured method of utilizing the local harmony of soil dwelling microbes, fungi and plants to encourage great performance from farms without the use of harmful artificial farming practices that limit plants and the environment surrounding them. The commercial normalization of lab-produced fertilizers and other products have really limited western agriculture and the local environment. The methods used by Janong farmers is completely based around the biology that is native to the area of cultivation. By using local organisms to amend the crops and soil, the need for human intervention is decreased and so is cost, while also not manipulating the plants to give more than they are capable. One of their most potent soil amendment practices called IMO boxes are steadily gaining traction with smaller scale farmers here in the US. The concept of these boxes are rather simple, but takes a life time to master. Essentially small wooden boxes are filled with rice and unrefined sugars that establish a small microorganism colony, which is gradually added to with other medias that will continue to grow the colony and diversify it. The colony is then harvested and utilized as a soil amendment to give crops a boost. The whole idea is to replicate the extreme natural diversity of forest soil,  which can be utilized to  turn your farm into a thriving, diverse and realistic place for all sorts of organisms to flourish and mingle with each other. So if you are skeptical of artificial nutrients for your plants (like me), consider growing your own fertilizer that will continue to give to your plants and soil for years.

Plant and Prosper!

Box of stage one IMO that is slowly colonizing rice

Box of stage one IMO that is slowly colonizing rice

Raised Veggies

Many of us have problematic gardens that are infested with hungry aphids, choked by weeds, or has overly compacted soil which kills/slows root development. If any of these ailments lingers around your garden, limiting your plants, it may be a good idea to look into small raised plots to keep your plants from the harsh ground. These raised beds have become a nice commodity in my garden, keeping my lettuce from the hungry mouths of aphids and rabbits. While at the same time, the soil is made up from exactly what i bought so the control over the medium in the plot is great, giving us the power to have aqueduct drainage and proper nutrients without the pests. But when growing anything in a smaller raised bed during the summer, it is vital to make sure the medium does not go dry. Due to the fact that the medium is only surrounded by wood or what ever the container is, it is very vulnerable to being dried out by the sun, so keeping a keen eye on moisture during the dry months is very important. Especially when dealing with plants like lettuces that root shallowly, building a bed just deep enough for the roots is fairly easy. I have assembled beds with eight cubic feet of volume, in under 3 hours. So if your garden isn’t cooperating the way you had hoped, consider building your own space for plants.

Plant and Prosper!

Strange Sprinula

Sprinula has found its way into more diets than ever before in western culture. Arthrosprina is a genus of cyanobacteria that contains about 30 species, many of which has been regarded as a new super food. These species of cyanobacteria resembles algae, but is in fact very different organisms, but they basically have the same growing conditions- getting its energy primarily from photosynthesis. Research has shown that species of sprinula have been found to be exceedingly nutritious, protein contents ranges from 53 to 68 percent by dry weight. It also contains high amount of polyunsaturated fatty acids, and a plethora of different vitamins and minerals.

And because of its very little need of input, sprinula colonies are very easy and cheap to establish and expand on. Not only is it becoming widely commercially cultivated but it is plenty easy enough for anyone to start a sprinula colony of their own. More and more uses for sprinula is being found everyday, including being used as an animal feed or meal replacements for those who cannot chew due to its incredible cheapness of cultivation and its nutrient density.

So when summer comes back around and the sun stays out, consider starting a sprinula culture if your looking for a simple, but super unique way to grow your own food and supplements. All you need is a clean area for a body of water that gets constant sun but that does not get too warm. Keep it clean and at the right temperature and you should have a colony of super food to harvest in no time !

Plant and Prosper !

Hella Morchella!

After the quiet, dormant winter, a very exciting time of the year is coming up for mycologists and mushroom hunters all over the country. When the rain returns and temperature rises, the elusive and exalted morel mushrooms return as well. This generally rare fungi is most abundant in North America and some of Asia. It has been regarded as one of the most valuable culinary mushrooms for centuries now. But not only is it so sought after for culinary usage but because of it rarity and how it essentially can only be harvested wild; very little success has been reached with cultivating morels indoors, they must be found in the forest. Morel mycelium is not hard to grow but to actually trigger it to develop fruit bodies is much more difficult, which is why the mushrooms are only found during spring in certain climates.

I received a small block of morchella mycelium from my grandmother this Christmas but because of the cold I was not able to break it up into any substrate yet. But now that spring is coming, it is about time to start my outdoor morel bed. Some has had success with growing their own morels by inoculating a compost bed with the mycelium and left to colonize and hopefully fruit on its own. For my bed, I am planning on using a generic compost mix with added; gypsum (for sulfur), wood ash (morels really like carbon), and other wood products. All of this will be in a small raised bed without a bottom that goes right on top of soil under a tree. The morel mycelium will slowly digest what is in the bed and will begin to move down into the soil beneath once it gets far enough along, and hopefully mingle with the roots and microbes in the soil to trigger fruiting. I will publish further posts when I get this started.

So if you still want yearly, fresh morels without participating in competitive hunting or paying an arm and a leg for some at the market, then look into building a backyard morel bed. Growing your own morels isn’t as hard as it is made out to be !

Plant and Prosper!

big ol' yellow morels:)

big ol’ yellow morels:)

Ominous Orchids

Spring is the time of year of returning green and flowers that smile up to you and the sun. But some on the most sought after flowers/plants are the noble and ancient orchidaceae clad. They have been worshiped by cultures since 100 AD, most predominantly in Asia and oceanic pacific regions. The orchid class generally has few uses other than its decorative value, but some species such as Vanilla Planifolia and a few others have edible components, many orchids are also cultivated for perfume production.

Orchidaceae has a pretty unique biology. Orchids tend to gather very little of its nutrients through its roots, they are only there to anchor the plant down to its media; they obtain their nutrients through air filtration and in the water it consumes. When grown in the wild, in soil, it is almost impossible for orchids to survive without being in some sort of ectomycorrhizal relationship with fungi. Many orchid species do not photosynthesize at all so these fungal relationships are crucial for survival. Its odd growing preferences and patterns may help to explain their extra flashy and floral flowers; because of its struggle for survival, huge, bright and smelly flowers encourage bees and other insects to help it pollinate compared to plants with weaker and smaller flowers. This may also be true for the amount of seeds orchids produce; they produce thousands of incredibly tiny seeds that contain no endosperm due to the massive amount of them; increasing germination chances. Next time you see a big tall, proud orchid remember, that its biologically disabled compared to many other plants, yet it still has so much beauty to share.

Plant and Prosper !