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Monthly Archives: May 2013

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When I lifted up the tarp covering the compost, there they were! Sweet little mushrooms, delicate and ephemeral, poking up between fruit peels, strips of newsprint, and already-decayed material. What a nice surprise this morning!

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130510-0836Dainty little fruiting bodies, rising up out of sweet-smelling decay. These are almost certainly some species of Coprinus mushrooms. Much too small and thin-fleshed to eat, if these are actually Coprinus they are nonetheless edible, as are all Coprinus mushrooms, as long as they are consumed before their caps begin to dissolve.

Most Coprinus mushrooms dissolve into a black liquid after they have fruited. That’s one of their distinguishing characteristics, and why they are often called “inky caps.” At right, you can see how the caps of the mushrooms have begun to turn into an inky  liquid. Not very appetizing, but a valuable adaptive trait, since the liquid carries many spores right back into the rich medium underneath the shroom. Like other mushrooms, inky caps also release their spores into the air.

These mushrooms are probably tropical in origin, which may be one reason I have not been able to identify their exact species. Many of the small inky caps frequently found in compost piles and also in greenhouses actually originated in the deep, wet, warm, richly nutrient-laden depths of tropical rain forests. No doubt they find the warm, wet compost most inviting.

130510-0838Everywhere there were masses of fuzzy white hyphae, the actual body of the fungus. In many places, the hyphae were clumping into tiny white mushroom primordia, like the one at left, just emerging near a chunk of shiny-knobby avocado peel visible at the upper right of the picture.

In order to give these tiny newborn shrooms some room to grow and preserve a warm, moist atmosphere, I carefully placed a few plastic milk crates on top of the compost and pulled the tarp back over it. I didn’t want to crush the little fungi. It was the decent thing to do!

Many kinds of Coprinus also have scaly caps or stems. This morning’s delightful little compost lovers show gorgeous fractal scales on the caps. Why do they have scales? Maybe the scales somehow help disperse the spore-bearing inky liquid.

Maybe they are there just to look pretty?

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Did you miss the previous episode of this story? You can also jump back to the beginning.

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a big day begins early!

Morning sun slants low across the neighborhood early on November 9, 2012. It’s a big day because the old silk tree is finally coming down. But before the men arrive with their big noisy machines, let’s have a little look around.

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The space directly under the big tree has been cleaned up. Many of the large irises, pittosporums, and other plants have been removed. Yellow flags mark the gas line. A white area on the house shows where an old jasmine vine was removed. To the right of the white mark, a very smart doggie looks out through the window.

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Above: a close look at the front edge of the streetside lantana strip. As promised, irregular slate stones have been placed here, with new grass stems already shooting up between. This is a temporary placement, subject to further editing as the rocks settle in. The grasses and other sprouts between the stones will mostly be removed, making room for mosses and other tiny plants.

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men and machines arrive

Here they are! The big truck is being anchored at the edge of the lantana strip, where the tree guy stands on those slate stones we were just looking at. This is it!

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With very little further preparation, Tree Guy gets into his bucket and levitates into the branches. The chainsaw roars into life. One by one, branches fall.

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Tree Guy is careful not to drop branches on delicate areas of the garden. Still, they cover large areas with masses and masses of leafy, twiggy debris. The truck pulling the wood chipper arrives, and the first branches are fed in…

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All morning it continues, with the noise and the sawdust and the branches coming down. The chipper keeps eating bigger and bigger branches. The remaining tree becomes shorter, and the remaining trunks are the biggest ones of all.

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We set aside some of the nicest branches, which are covered with an astounding variety of lichens and mosses. This is the kind of gorgeous micro-ecosystem that can develop when no human touches a surface for years at a time. We’ll try to preserve some of these branches to decorate the back yard, but the lichens and mosses will probably suffer a lot from the changed environment.

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Several hours later, there’s not much left of the tree. What will happen to all those huge trunks? Wait and see…

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When they started shoving huge logs into the chipper, I almost didn’t believe what I was seeing. Everything, even the biggest, heaviest trunks, went right in. What a lot of noise!

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I could not help feeling quite sad as the last trunk sections were taken down.

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The final cuts went right into the main cambium of the trunk. Look how the tree is bleeding. Enough sap is coming from just this one cut to fill a drinking cup in twenty seconds. Feeling very sad…

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Just one last cut, and we are down to ground level. But the work is not yet finished. We will need a new tool!

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Before we bring in the stump remover, have a look at the stump. See the dark brown circle? That’s evidence of the fungus that has been attacking this tree for many, many years. Where the stain touches the outside of the stump is where the soft spot was that showed the fungus infection from the outside.

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Possibly the most evil-looking garden machine ever. The huge toothed wheel arrives, ready to literally eat right down into the ground. Yikes!

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At long last, it’s over. Peace and quiet returns to the neighborhood as little yellow house basks in sudden sunshine. Where there was a huge old silk tree, now there is only a soft spot in the ground … and a yard full of thousands of tiny twigs and leaves.

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Next: In the sudden sun, a grand transformation begins.

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These pretty little white flowers are field bindweed, Convolvulus arvensis, a Euro-Asian native that is one of the most hated crop pests in California. Like a tide of white-flecked green, bindweed is able to wash across agricultural fields in just one season, sending its twining stems out across the surface while sinking deep taproots far into the ground. Truly it is one of the nastiest invasives around here.

130501-0732At the extreme lower right of the above picture, the bindweed extends some shoots out across the sidewalk. As the ecodesigner of this garden, I frequently clip the “beard” of the bindweed as it reaches across the concrete walkways. I can certainly understand the farmers’ objections to this incredibly vigorous plant!

Almost all of the leaves in the first picture belong to the bindweed. There are some violet leaves near the top and  clover-like oxalis leaves near the bottom, between the two flowers. Directly below the lowest flower is another tiny shoot – can you see it? Can you identify it?

Bindweed is a nasty invasive indeed. But here in the deep nature garden, we do not recognize the word “weed.”

Properly managed, bindweed can be a beautiful component of a diverse, vibrant ecosystem, a healthy, contributing citizen along with many other kinds of plants. Bindweed adds beautiful morning-glory-like flowers, lush green leaves, and even attracts pollinators like the bee fly (not a bee – it’s a fly!) visiting the upper flower in the picture below.

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Do you have bindweed out of control in your garden? Here are three suggestions for management:

First, realize that no matter how fast a plant grows and no matter how deep its roots, you can move faster! If you feel like it is getting out of control, control it! Snip it down to the ground, repeatedly, every time you see it. You don’t even have to get the roots out, just keep snipping it. Seriously, eventually it will give up. If you want to get rid of it faster, dig out the roots. It’s up to you. If seedlings sprout up, pull them out too. But whatever you do, don’t spray nasty, refined chemicals!

Second, shade it. It likes full sun, so plant something above it that will provide shade. Then pull it out, repeatedly, as it tries to come back.

Third, limit it. I like bindweed, and I’m not afraid to let it grow in some places. But I do cut it back frequently. There are lots of plants I cut back, frequently. That’s part of being a deep nature gardener. But here’s an even better way to control and limit beautiful bindweed: contain it! Pull it out of the ground if you like, but why not plant a few shoots or seeds in a container, where it can flow out and over the edges, with its sweet flowers popping up all over the cascading stems. Lovely!

Bindweed in a container: perfect recipe for a beautiful but invasive alien vine that needs frequent management.