Monthly Archives: June 2012

You may remember the blueberry flowers earlier this year. They are now berries, and it looks like a bumper crop from this still-young bush. Already these plump beauties are starting to show some purple-blue color!

UPDATE: the first ripe blueberries!

While the blueberries have been ripening, a sturdy escarole plant has sprung up right nearby. Its curly-leaved flower stalks punch up through the blueberry stems and the leaves of the neighboring bearded iris clump.

The blue flowers look like chicory, which makes sense because escarole is Chicorium endivia, closely related to the roadside plant whose roots contain many flavorful substances:

Do you see the lady beetle peeking out just below the flower?

Chicory, endive, frisée, escarole, all very close relatives, all edible in various ways, all wonderful to have in the garden. But where did the seed come from for this escarole plant? It remains a happy mystery.

Do you remember the happy springtime raspberry bush? It has grown quite a lot, and now there are berries – but as anticipated, they are less than impressive.

Above is shown the very best stem of berries on the bush. It has three small berries, the largest of which has a mighty seven drupelets. Still, they are a pretty red color and the very tiny drupelets actually do taste like raspberry.

Most of the berries look more like the somewhat pathetic specimen at right, with two whole drupelets. Why are the berries so small? Very likely this bush is a hybrid between two commercial plants, whose genes got reassorted during the cross. Such hybrids rarely turn out to be of much edible value, whether the plant in question is a raspberry, radish, or rutabaga.

It is because of this quality hit from hybrid plants that heirloom seeds are so important for use in ecosystem farming. Heirlooms, if properly cultivated and pollinated, provide steady quality through many generations. Because of this long-term consistency, heirloom crops and other plants can also be more easily selected for new, better traits, which are easier to spot against the steady gene line.

UPDATE: A blast from the past and a more current photo.

Meanwhile, not far away something more impressive is growing. Remember the first blackberry flower? Now it and its sisters are growing into some very respectable looking berries:

The red color of this gorgeous specimen is intermediate between the hard, green berries and the luscious, ripe black ones. Most of the 50 or so blackberries on the canes still look more like the younger ones below, posing next to the rain gauge with leaves glowing in the sun:

Berries from previous years on these canes were delicious. This year’s crop is even larger! The size of the crop is especially interesting, considering that the canes are growing out of this container, featuring a carpet of moss and sedum, blackberry canes coming up at the right, and a happy carrot going to seed on the left:

So far, One Green Stone has been a fascinating experiment. What kind of blog would it become?

Looking at early posts, there was a kind of casting about for topics. What should I write about? There was a tendency to sort of splash it out there in different ways, trying out different voices.

Lately things have settled and a few distinct flows have emerged. Now it seems appropriate to create several more focused streams, to honor the distinctness of the different flows.

Two new blogs split out now, leaving One Green Stone leaner and cleaner with a more precise focus. Off-topic posts will be disappearing, either moved to one of the other blogs or simply vanished.

The first new blog is called “clear display.” The name arises from the wonderful sharings of the excellent Jim Wray, whose tweets and writings reveal the deep truth of the nondual Clear Aware Display that is our experience of Reality. The new blog is primarily visual, featuring photography, Photoshop art, algorithmic metaflowers, and contributed works. It uses the beautiful Nishita theme which features 1024-wide images. Subscribe to clear display if you’d like to see more of this beautiful art as it is published.

The second new blog is called “empty witness.” Here you will find articles and comments about the world, my life, and life in general. Subscribe to empty witness if you’ve enjoyed or valued the commentaries in past months about world events, Al Jazeera, modern prophets, friendly aliens, nondual Being, and paleo lifestyle.

This blog you are reading (One Green Stone) will center around ecology, and especially the art of eco-gardening, with various excursions into weather, science, or other interests. It will continue to be a celebration of beautiful Earthly nature and life forms.

It is delightful to feel the enthusiasm and interest that people are showing around these projects. Thank you for your support, and double special thanks to all enthusiastic eco-garden clients.

There are estimated to be more than 200,000 different species of flies, midges, gnats, and mosquitos in the world, but only about half of them are known and described. All belong to the order Diptera (Wikipedia article), whose name means “two winged.” The only insect order with more species is the beetles.

There are many species of green bottle flies (Wikipedia) that look very similar. All belong to the family Calliphoridae (Wikipedia), also known as blowflies. That family contains roughly 1,100 species. It is a huge, complex family whose internal relationships are disputed. Some entomologists think there may be several separate lineages in the family, from different origins.

Like many blue or green animal colors in nature, the shiny luster of these flies comes from light diffraction through tiny structures in the surface of their body, not from any kind of pigment. As a result, the color can change depending on the angle of the light. Blue jays, peacocks, and Morpho butterflies also get their blue and green colors from diffraction of light.

Blowflies in general, and green bottles in particular, are incredibly sensitive to the smell of dead flesh. They are often the first insects to arrive when an animal dies. Forensic entomologists can estimate the time of death of an animal or human by looking at the life stages of blowfly maggots and other insect larvae within the body.

The little beauty shown here bopped around the garden for almost an hour while I was photographing all sorts of stuff. I kept finding it basking in the sun. The rock must have been especially warm, because it hung out there for a long time.

How curious and strange, that this beautiful green-gold work of art spent its early life completely surrounded by a dead animal’s rotting body.

Not long after our green friend flew away, a different beauty showed up. This syrphid fly (flower fly / hover fly) was uncharacteristically just sitting there among the Bacopa flowers. Usually they are seen hovering almost in place, or darting from one flower to another.

The family Syrphidae (Wikipedia) has even more species than the Calliphoridae, numbering more than 6,000. Most of the adults eat pollen or drink nectar. The larvae have more varied food – some of them are valuable predators, eating aphids and other small insects found on plants.

Two flies, just hanging out in the sun. Who wants to fly around when you can just soak up some rays on a nice green leaf or rock?

Here’s another post about interesting flies.

Even though many of the plants in my eco-gardens come right up out of seeded eco-compost, it’s good to start certain kinds of seedlings separately, to get them going well. Rather than spend money on peat pots (and aren’t peat bogs a precious eco-resource?) let’s use these short sections of cardboard tubes from the center of rolls of toilet paper and paper towels.

Arrange them on a slanted tray, fill with planting medium, and add some seeds. Water with a fine mist until the tubes are all fully soaked top to bottom, and there is a persistent puddle at the low end of the tray. Keep it moist – a layer of saran wrap is a good idea if the weather is warm and dry.

In this example, the tall, strappy yellow-green seedlings are Swiss chard. The broader leafed ones at the front are radishes.

Here at my apartment, there is very limited space for a composting system. One way to create compost in such a small space is to use a set of waterproof, decay-proof plastic tarpaulins to contain and control the process. On the upstairs deck is an ecosystem-based “low and slow” compost pile designed to produce rich, seed-packed eco-compost, an integral part of all of the eco-gardening projects.

“Low and slow” means that this compost system works at a relatively low temperature and takes a fairly long time to fully process its “food.” One reason it is low and slow is because it’s fairly small, so it can’t attain the high temperatures needed for fast composting.

Another reason it’s “low and slow” is because the process of ecosystem composting is fascinating to watch, and I like to let it develop through a whole ecosystem cycle before disturbing it by turning it over. The center of the pile develops more slowly than it might, because oxygen does not get in there very frequently.

It’s time to turn the compost!

In the picture above, the tarpaulin has been opened out and weighted with some bricks. A second one has been inserted at the left side, with its edge underneath. This one will receive the material from the pile as it is turned and mixed.

Above, I’ve started pulling away the loose, dry plant material from the top of the pile. I usually just casually toss plant clippings onto the top, letting them dry out naturally. They contain the precious seeds that will become such an important ingredient in this eco-compost. Unlike traditional “hot” composting systems, this eco-compost pile is deliberately designed to preserve the plant seeds that end up in it. We want the seeds to sprout when the final mixture is delivered to the garden.

One important note: I’m using a four-tined sharp-ended claw tool, which seems very eager to rip big holes into the tarpaulin. I must be careful! I do not want to destroy the tarp’s waterproof properties, so I use the claw tool very gently, angling it so that the tips do not injure the tarp.

Above: The dry plant matter is brought over to the receiving tarpaulin (off the left in this picture) where it will soon be covered up (and moistened!) by the remainder of the compost pile after it is sifted. Now the darker, moist “core” ecosystem is exposed. This is where most of the decomposing action happens. It’s loaded with many kinds of critters like worms, sowbugs, springtails, mites, nematodes, centipedes, fly larvae, and much, much more.

Worm tracks are visible on the tarpaulin where some of the core has been moved away. They are in there, and it looks like they are fairly large too.

Now the exercise begins. Yes, tarpaulin composting (the way I do it at least!) involves some labor. The first few shovels of core compost are on the sifter and I’m ready to get a little bit sweaty!

On the left, the first bit of sifted compost.

On the sifter is the first batch of material to be dropped over the dry stuff that was pulled away from the core. This large debris is mostly bits of woody stems, chicken bones (yes, this composting method can take animal products), chunks of eggshell, and a few foreign items like fruit labels and small stones. It gets returned to the flow for further breakdown, after I pull out the worst of the foreign items.

On the right, the rest of the unsifted core.

Above: the good stuff! Freshly sifted compost from the active core of the pile. Heavily laced with a wide variety of seeds from all sorts of interesting plants, moist and loamy. What an amazing, rich, sweet aroma it has.

After sifting about half of the core, the remainder of it is shoveled onto the top of the destination pile, and the tarp is dragged over to the spot where the original pile was. The edges get rolled neatly and weighted with bricks, and the pile is groomed into a nice clean shape. But we’re not done yet.

Above: On the right, finished, sifted, seeded compost. In the center, kitchen scraps from our own kitchen and those of several neighbors. This is the rich “food” that enlivens the compost pile and makes it more than just a tangle of dead, dry plant stems. On the left, a bucket of Just Plain Dirt collected from various different places. It contains many kinds of seeds, including those of plants that are not yet part of the garden.

Above: The bucket of kitchen scraps is inverted over the top of the compost pile, revealing hundreds of large fly larvae that were crowding the bottom of the bucket. These are larvae of black soldier flies (Hermetia illucens, read more in this Wikipedia article).

UPDATE: here’s more about black soldier flies, with a great picture of a gravid female.

Black soldier flies are not only quite common here in California, they are among the best and fastest compost decomposers, whose larvae have absolutely ravenous appetites. Were it not for the soldier fly larvae, this freshly dumped bucket of kitchen scraps would have been four or five buckets – that’s how fast they eat vegetable scraps and convert them into … well … themselves, and a layer of rich, black, loamy waste. They work so darned fast that the kitchen scraps in this bucket rarely have a chance to get moldy or smelly.

Now that the bucket has been dumped, these fly larvae will dig themselves in and pupate, emerging as flies within a week or so. The adult flies and larvae are wonderful food for birds (bluejays, juncoes, and mourning doves frequently scratch around in the compost looking for them) and contribute to the local ecosystem’s diversity and health.

In the last picture, a couple of shovels of dry neighborhood dirt have been roughly dumped on top of the upturned deposit of kitchen scraps. I’ll spray the compost pile down with a bit of water, and my morning exercise session is finished. Yeah!