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While preparing a client’s new garden last summer I came across a patch of dormant bulbs in a shady, mossy place under a bush. I tossed some of the topsoil and a few bulbs into a handy plastic bag and brought it home.

The soil and bulbs went into a round pot. There was not enough soil to fill it all the way, but I didn’t want to change the soil chemistry or add any new species to the mix so it was left partly filled. I put the new eco-pack in a partly shaded corner behind some other plants and forgot about it for several months.

As you can see, the bulbs sprouted up! How lovely. But what are they? I don’t know yet, we’ll have to wait until they bloom. What kind of bulbs do you think they are? Tell us your guess in the comments.

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The soil from that mossy place also contained thousands of moss fragments, which also sprouted up in the moist, shaded, forgotten pot. This is some of the lushest, most crisply beautiful moss in any of the eco-packs. Look how it glistens in the sun!

Although this pot was moved temporarily to a sunny location for these pictures, it has now been returned to its semi-shady home, similar to the location where it was originally found under the bush.

When the bulbs bloom, which seems likely this spring, I’ll publish an update. Watch for it in a few months!

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There she is! I call her the compost beast. She lives on a tarpaulin on the upstairs deck. How beautiful she is, basking in the morning sun.

Let’s open it up and see more of her.

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The right end of the beast is the input end, AKA her “mouth.” This is where the new “compost food” (kitchen scraps, mostly) goes in. The left end is the output end, AKA her (well, you can figure it out).

150222-1050At right is a close-up of part of the input end. There are moldy fruits, egg shells, various other food debris, and you might also notice some bits of shredded paper.

A few chicken bones are allowed into the stream to add more phosphorus and calcium as they slowly break down. There are also a few twigs and stems of garden cuttings, but not the ones that have lots of viable seeds.

In the past I used to take the time to carefully break up the compost food into bite-size chunks, as a way of “pre-chewing” it so the beast could digest it better. But nowadays I don’t bother to pre-chew her food, because she does a very good job of it as the food decays inside of her.

Time to get to work!

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Before I can add any new compost food I need to do a bit of “grooming” using a soft-tined garden rake. With this type of composting one must act as a sorting agent, bringing the largest bits of undecomposed material back to the input end from the output end. They get re-cycled through the beast until they either break down or are removed during an operation I call “slimming down” that will be described in another post.

To accomplish this debris-sorting the rear end is groomed up toward the front end, bringing those larger bits back for re-digestion. Even though this grooming is only done to the surface layers, over time it is a very effective way to keep the beast sorted from front to back.

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Above is today’s “meal.” You can see citrus peels (often considered too acid for making good compost, but the beast can handle them). There are also avocado peels, egg shells, and a coffee filter (the grounds are there too!) and underneath are some rotting eggplant parts and much more.

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Above: A shovel has been used to open out the input end, creating a flattish space where new food can be added. But we are not ready to do that yet.

150222-1117The kitchen scraps alone would not make good compost. They are too dense and wet, and they are chemically unbalanced. First, I have to add some absorbent, high-carbon content bulk.

That’s easy enough. Like most suburban households, we generate a fair amount of scrap newsprint. This excellent material is sliced into strips with an old-fashioned paper cutter and deposited into the beast’s open mouth.

However, we don’t just use any old paper. Fortunately, the right kind is readily available for free. It’s mostly made of local free newspapers, almost all of which (these days) use good paper and non-toxic, soy-based inks. That’s what we want.

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I’m almost done! The compost food is deposited on top of the shredded paper, and mixed around a bit with the shovel. Any really large chunks are chopped into a few smaller pieces.

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Above: The beast’s mouth is re-closed by moving debris from around the edges back up on top of the new food. Now she is ready to digest her meal. Notice how she is all humped up around the new stuff. That hump will drop down over the next day or two, as the kitchen scraps rapidly decompose.

Below: Back in her tarpaulin robe, the compost beast lies in the warm sun, peacefully digesting her new meal.

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141229-1205

Hello deep naturalists!

Once again I am delighted to offer an interesting, fun introductory class in deep nature gardening. The next “deep nature 101″ class will be held here in Menlo Park on Saturday, March 21.

You will get the full outline of how to do deep nature gardening, with slide shows, show and tell of plants, tools, and materials, demonstrations of various methods and techniques, and you’ll even have a chance to do some hands-dirty deep nature gardening of your own.

141229-1234Deep nature gardening is not like traditional approaches to gardening, in some ways turning it completely upside down.

Instead of pulling out “weeds” we celebrate interesting new sprouts. Instead of constantly struggling to completely eliminate invasive plants, we limit them to small areas and use other kinds of plants to keep them in their places. Instead of coddling our plants with special soils or trying to “protect” them from pests with pesticides or herbicides, we ask them to fend for themselves, forcing them to adapt to our garden. Some will live and some will die. Over time, the garden adjusts to its environment without needing any kind of chemicals or other products.

The result is a beautiful, diverse, abundantly productive garden that is like a little bit of nature, attracting countless critters like bees, butterflies, and birds.

This intro class is your opportunity to discover a new way of gardening. If you’d like to create a deep nature area in your landscape, this is your chance to learn all about it and ask as many questions as you like.

Here are just a few of the things we’ll cover:

  • We’ll explore a beautiful, mature deep nature garden.
  • What is a deep nature garden and what makes it special?
  • What are the life stages of a deep nature garden?
  • What skills are needed to grow and maintain one?
  • What tools are needed, and how are they used?
  • How to make ultra-compost, a potent living food for the whole ecosystem.
  • How to grow eco-packs, small micro-gardens with many kinds of plants.
  • How to grow artistic mini-gardens, full ecosystems in mid-size containers.
  • Create your own eco-pack to take home.
  • Arrange a free on-site visit in your own garden at a later date.

141229-1248Like my other paid events, this class is offered through the excellent services of Learn From Neighbor, a wonderful company and web site that gives everyone a way to share their knowledge and skills with people who are interested in learning more.

If you have something interesting to teach and you’d like to earn some money at the same time, but you don’t have the time, skills, or energy to promote it and deal with details like registration and collecting fees, you should get in touch with LFN. They make it trivially easy. I love what they do!

The price of this two-hour event is $50. To sign up, click through to the event’s page at LFN and let us know you’ll be here. I look forward to meeting a bunch of new friends on March 21.

Nick Turner

150222-1355

This peat-pot filled to almost overflowing with a grassy looking plant was received from a friend at a recent plant swap. At first I had no idea what it was. There are tons of grassy-leaved plants! But as you can see above, it has recently put out a bunch of drooping flower clusters. Now we can identify it! Let’s have a closer look.

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Wow! Amazing flowers with red-pink bracts above and pendulous drooping individual blooms. Each of these has green petals edged in bright blue with a red base, terminated by long stamens with abundant yellow pollen.

What kind of plant is this? From examination of the leaves and the bases of the leaf clusters, and from the general shape of the flowers, it seemed like some type of bromeliad.

Some research revealed that this is (probably!) Billbergia nutans, AKA “queen’s tears,” a true bromeliad related to pineapples, which grows as an epiphyte (attached to trees above the ground) in tropical areas of the new world.

How delightful to have this easy-to-grow new species in the collection! Now it’s time to divide this big old plant into lots of smaller ones… and anyone in the Bay Area is invited to come on by and get a starter sucker from this plant.

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Here is a smallish eco-pack, whose main feature is a beautiful little Solanum “potato vine” (maybe S. seaforthianum or S. jasminoides) climbing up a post in the middle. This plant was deliberately placed here, sprouting from a bulb harvested from a client’s garden in San Jose, CA. I’m going to up-pot it into the round black pot.

150222-1213Right: The vine is not the only plant in the eco-pack. It also contains a tiny little stinging nettle deep in one corner. There are also a few small seedlings of scarlet pimpernel and Kenilworth ivy plus a few other seedlings that are still too small to identify.

When up-potting an eco-pack (or planting it in the ground) it is important to do our best to preserve as many of the plants as possible. Let’s see if we can keep the little nettle and the other seedlings.

Placing a few fingers directly on the soil (between the plant stems!) I invert the pot and squeeze it gently with my left hand. After a few squeezes the whole thing slips easily out.

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Above: The pack has been very carefully removed from its pot and the destination pot has a bit of good planting mix in the bottom. This is the perfect time to up-pot this eco-pack because the roots have grown enough to hold the soil together but not so much that they are sucking the last bits of nutrients out. We want to see the roots around the outside, but we also want to see a good amount of soil.

150222-1227Right: The pack and its rectangular chunk of soil rests on the planting mix in the bottom of the new pot. I do not “rough up” the root ball in any way – in fact I am very careful to preserve every bit of its structure. There are several kinds of plants here and their roots are deeply entwined. Let’s not damage them!

With one hand I scoop a bit of new planting mix and very gently pour it down into the open slots along the edges of the root clump, all around the outside. I am very careful not to pour any planting mix onto the existing soil surface.

Still very gently, I use two or three fingers to push down the new planting mix, adding more as needed until there is a new level surface outside of the plants that were already in the eco-pack.

A gentle shake and bump-bump of the pot settles the new mix into place. The results are below. Can you see the tiny stinging nettle, still happy at what used to be the corner of the old pot?

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One more thing. Any time a plant’s roots are disturbed, and especially if they are in contact with new, dry soil, it is important to give a serious watering. With the hand spray set on “shower” mode I give it a good deep watering, until it drips out the bottom.

That’s it! Now this little vine and its community will have some room to grow bigger!

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Hello deep naturalists!

The response to our first class in deep nature gardening was excellent. Ten people took part in the introductory class, and three (so far) have now signed up for garden visits, including one full deep nature transformation. It is wonderful to find more lovers of naturalistic gardening and help them create some beautiful, diverse abundance.

Now it’s time to take it to the next level. The advanced deep nature gardening class is ready, and you can be part of it. I’m tremendously excited and delighted to be able to offer a much deeper, more intensive sharing of the methods, lore, and practice of deep nature gardening.

141229-1248Like the first class, this one is offered in partnership with Learn From Neighbor, an amazing company that makes it possible for busy people who have something to share to offer classes in their own homes. LFN takes care of many details, handling sign-ups, payments, and much more. I am an enthusiastic supporter of LFN!

Whether your garden is a vast multi-acre landscape or a few containers on a deck, you can create a beautiful ecosystem with diverse plants that will attract a variety of wonderful critters. A deep nature garden turns traditional gardening upside down, in the best way. Come learn about this special way to create a beautiful, resilient ecosystem.

If you’ve experienced the beginner class, or if you’ve fully explored this web site (especially the background pages in the top bar) you are invited to the next level, our advanced class. It’s three fascinating, fun hours of in-depth conversation, demonstration, and hands-on experience.

150104-0659This advanced class is where we share the true heart of deep nature gardening, the hands-dirty tips and tricks that can make the difference between a wild tangle of “weeds” and a natural looking yet well-managed landscape that is radiant with beautiful, diverse abundance.

Each advanced class is different, with different topics, questions, and hands-on fun, and you get to take home your choice of goodies, including a 2-quart can of ultra-compost, a serving of seeded eco-mix, a pre-sprouted eco-pack, or you can make up your own brand new eco-pack with seeds ready to sprout.

Here are some of the topics we might explore in detail, and you are welcome to bring your deepest questions!

  • Composting: methods and principles, hands-on demo
  • Thinning: general methods, tips and tricks, hands-on demo
  • Pruning: principles and techniques, hands-on demo
  • Edibles and useful production: enhancing abundance
  • Special ecosystems: shade, sand, swamp, and sun-blast
  • Plant identification: slide shows and real-life examples

150102-0838This fun and informative 3-hour experience will be held on Saturday, February 21 at 1PM at my place in Menlo Park. The cost is $60. Attendance is limited to 15 people, so if this sounds interesting you should sign up soon.

You can read more about this class and sign up at LFN site, and you can also explore the main site at LFN.

I look forward to seeing some of you on the 21st and sharing some of the deepest nature gardening with you.

Nick Turner

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140519-0725

One of our favorite “trouble plants” is the lovely buttercup oxalis, Oxalis pes-caprae. It is a fascinating little herb originally from South Africa. Above is a patch of lantana that has been completely smothered in a lush carpet of buttercup oxalis.

Yes, it is a noxious invasive that can overwhelm many other kinds of plants. Despite what some gardeners may say (Oh, that stuff never dies. It will be there forever!) it can be tamed, controlled and even completely eliminated. But without the use of icky chemical toxins (please, don’t!) it could take a bit of persistent work.

140519-0733In South Africa it’s a native surrounded by local herbivores that eat it. Here in California it can spread rapidly through underground runners and bulbs. Many gardeners hate it because it is very difficult to remove. Directly pulling up the plant almost always leaves the bulbs behind, which can be as deep as six inches or more. Yikes!

 

it can be done!
The good news is: They can be cleared by persistent, complete plucking of all new rosettes every few weeks during the winter growing season.

But you really will have to keep after them! Do not allow any rosettes to get to the blooming stage because that is when they send out dozens of tiny underground bulblets. Each bloomer will be surrounded by a six-inch radius of tiny new plants next spring. You must pull out all rosettes, no matter how tiny.

It is enough to pluck out the stems if you are patient and persistent, but the biggest ones can come back four or five times before they give up. Fortunately, we can move faster. Just keep plucking.

You can eliminate them faster if you get the bulbs. Use a long, thin, sharp tool like a weeder, screwdriver, or thin trowel to shove down deep under each rosette. Your goal is to break open the soil without breaking the lowest stem of the plant. It can be tricky, especially if your soil is dense, but there is a certain joy in gently shaking off loosened soil to find a bulb clinging to the thin thread at the bottom of the root. That one will not come back!

 

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you can eat all of it
Not everything about buttercup oxalis is bad. Not only is it exceptionally pretty, it is also edible. The sweet-sour yellow flowers and flower stalks are great in salads, and the bulbs are said to be good for getting rid of tapeworms. I haven’t had a chance to test that claim yet.

As invasive as they are, we love these little plants. But we keep them in their place. Where is that? Several places, actually.

 

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a drift in the leaves
Natives-only gardeners may cringe, but there can be a place for these little beauties in a deep nature garden. There may be a spot in the semi-shade with deep leaf debris, where buttercup oxalis can poke up through the leaves. The best place for such an oxalis drift is under a deciduous bush or tree, so that they can enjoy some filtered sun during the winter growing season. The annual leaf drop from above can challenge them and help to keep them under control.

In the picture above there are lemon-yellow buttercup oxalis flowers under the blooming wisteria vine, and spilling out into a sunny meadow of california poppy, wild strawberry, and English violet.

If you want a big harvest of the sweet-tangy flowers you can create a more robust and productive drift of oxalis. Just let the little cuties grow in some likely place. In the picture below is such a drift among some beautiful rocks. If it is strictly removed from other garden areas it can be a gorgeous and tame part of the ecosystem. But it will definitely need to be controlled around the edges.

 

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tame, beautiful, delicious
The best place of all for a wonderful, edible little invader like buttercup oxalis is a container. As you might imagine, they are fairly easy to grow. We’ve been growing some in our eco-packs. Want one?

Read more about buttercup oxalis at Wikipedia.

 

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