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insects

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What we do is not like “regular” gardening!

In some ways the relationship between a deep nature garden and its human caretaker runs in the opposite direction than it does in a “normal” garden.

Here is a table that might make these differences more clear:

traditional garden deep nature garden
garden expected to “obey” gardener gardener and garden co-evolve
gardener takes care of garden garden adapts itself to conditions
maintains a consistent design design co-evolves with gardener
garden is planted garden grows in
garden is “done” once it is planted garden constantly evolves
ecosystem is simple and controlled ecosystem is complex and self-regulated
contains only selected plants contains many volunteers
unexpected sprouts are removed unexpected sprouts are celebrated
pruned for controlled appearance pruned for natural appearance
wants to be “complete” may have some blank places
plant eaters are killed plant eaters are welcome
augmented with fertilizers augmented (if at all) with compost
“protected” by poisons not in need of protection
gardener works in the garden gardener merges into the garden
conforms to gardener’s vision always reveals new beauty

 

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One of the most common comments from deep nature garden clients is about how much activity there is. “It’s totally buzzing with butterflies, bees, and birds!” said one client recently. But you don’t need to create a full deep nature garden to bring much more critter action into your outdoor spaces. Let us show you how!

Your garden is part of Gaia, the great global ecosystem. By making it more welcoming for many kinds of creatures, you directly help to heal the planet and contribute to the beauty, diversity, and abundance of the whole world. This is your invitation to take a more active role in that healing.

 

130713-1223easy upgrades
Any garden can be made into a more critter-friendly place with some well-chosen additions. Got a wood pile? A rock pile? A bird bath? A bat box? What is the best critter shelter for that shady place under the camellia? What kind of critters can be attracted to that sunny bank?

You don’t have to give up the lawn or the trimmed hedge (unless you want to!) and you can decide which features to actually add. Your garden animation project can happen in easy steps, one new critter-happy feature at a time.

Deep nature gardeners are passionate about bringing nature back to suburbia. We want a garden full of movement, with lots of flying insects, birds, and even lizards, newts, frogs, and toads. It’s not an ecosystem without the critters!

More and more people are doing garden upgrades to attract and nurture many kinds of wonderful creatures. Will you be part of this movement?

 

Here are some of the excellent critter-friendly garden upgrades you can do:

* bird houses and bat boxes. There are many kinds of birds, and many kinds of bird houses. Just one is not enough! Your garden can be much more bird friendly if they have a place to nest. You can also create bird-friendly nesting zones in other places, such as a thicket.

140621-1417* flowers. Flowers are not just there to look pretty! They are very important in our gardens. They are for nectar, for pollen, and for specific kinds of creatures. We can help you select kinds of flowers that will bring many happy, busy flower-loving insects and birds.

* plants for leaf eaters and seed feeders. Plants are the base of the whole food chain. By providing plants that serve as food sources, you can attract even more fabulous creatures. The larval food plants of many kinds of butterflies are easy to grow, as are plants that provide seeds or nesting materials for birds. You can even grow plants that attract herbivorous insects that in turn tend to attract certain specific kinds of predators.

* bee boxes, bee banks, and other special insect features. There are many ways to attract and nurture an abundance of different kinds of insects. Many wonderful insects are becoming increasingly rare in suburban areas. By creating habitat for them you help preserve precious species diversity, which helps to heal the planetary ecosystem.

* a thicket. Every garden should have one! Here is an area, small or large, where humans never go. In this one place, certain plants are allowed to create a dense tangle of stems and leaves, pruned only on the outside. There are some kinds of birds and mammals who only nest and breed in such thickets.

140621-1423* water features. Whether it is a puddle, a bird bath, a pond, or even a pump-driven stream, a water feature is one of the very best ways to attract creatures not seen in any other place. Everyone wants a drink now and then, and lots of creatures use the water in other ways as well. If you don’t have some kind of water feature in your garden you are missing out on a lot of diversity.

* artistically placed decaying logs. Possible shelter for newts, toads, small mammals like wood mice, and a whole host of smaller critters like spiders, crickets, centipedes, and much more. There might also be moss and mushrooms.

* a beautifully arranged rock pile. A great place to find lizards, field mice, and maybe even a snake, plus a wide assortment of smaller critters who appreciate the dry spaces inside.

* a tree stump or dead tree (snag). If you have one, don’t yank it out! A tree stump can be one of the most interesting critter habitats. As it slowly returns to the soil it attracts an ever-changing, ever-deepening collection of happy creatures.

* open composting area. A place where the natural process of compost conversion happens out in the open, where local birds and other creatures can come to find many kinds of abundant food animals like grubs, worms, and other compost-dwellers. We are amazed at the unusual, interesting birds who visit our open compost systems.

These are only a few of the interesting and valuable garden upgrades you can add to bring more critters to your garden. There are many more, including dry composting, moss gardens, dirt / soil / mud banks, special soil areas, and even special “food breeders” designed to enhance the local ecosystem by releasing hundreds of harmless but highly nutritious small insects.

 

140621-1427let us help you make it happen
If all of this sounds as cool and exciting to you as it does to us, please get in touch!

As always, you are welcome to have a free get-acquainted visit. Let’s walk around in your garden spaces and talk about the possibilities.

Even the smallest gardens can be upgraded for better creature support, and we can offer countless creative ideas.

Mount critter shelters on a blank wall or hide them under the bushes. Add a few containers of clover, dill, or other butterfly larval food plants. If you grow veggies like carrots or brassicas, let a few bolt into bloom to attract many kinds of pollinators. Grow common, easy “weeds” like lamb’s quarter and amaranth that provide abundant seeds that small birds like finches simply can’t resist. If there’s a bird bath nearby, so much the better.

Read more about creative, artistic garden upgrades.

Want to get started? Let’s set up a free introductory appointment!

There are critters out there who need good homes! Will you help them?

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We have not seen much dew in the Bay Area in this year of record drought, so here’s a reminder that sometimes there is actual moisture around here! On December 24, 2012 the sun lit up this tiny spider web among irises and Santa Barbara daisies.

140519-0623The spider that spun this web was no larger than a pin head, yet it contained enough instinctive knowledge to construct this complicated, 3-dimensional structure suspended expertly from  leaves and stems.

A typical organic garden contains thousands of spiders of many kinds. Most of them remain hidden in the vegetation, actively exploring for prey. Only a few spin webs that are large enough to be easily noticed.

The presence of spiders in the garden is ecologically profound, because they eat a significant fraction of the flying and crawling insects. In webs just like this one in the same garden, I have spotted fungus gnats, parasitic wasps, fruit flies, many other small insects, and even a lady beetle.

There are more than 42,000 kinds of spiders. They have been around for 400 million years, evolving from fascinating little critters called trigonotarbids that looked a little like modern ticks and mites.

Back in those early days there were no dew-spangled spider webs because web-weaving spiders had not yet evolved. True spiders with spinnerets appeared around 300 million years ago during the Carboniferous, a time when yard-long dragonflies cruised the skies. It must have been a great time to evolve predators!

There’s more about spider evolution at Wikipedia. There’s also a neat article about trigonotarbids.

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I love starting work in a garden early in the morning. One nice thing about these cool early hours is that many insects are still slow-moving and partly asleep. One such was this lacewing, a voracious predator of aphids and other small critters. I spotted it just as the sun touched the roses.

This one is probably a brown lacewing in the family Hemerobiidae of the order Neuroptera. These are less common than the green ones, and like the green lacewings they are always a welcome sight in the garden.

If the wide, stuffed-looking abdomen is any guide, this one is a female ready to lay eggs. The eggs are fascinating, deposited on the ends of erect, silk hairs attached to the undersides of leaves. Why the hairs? Some theorize that they protect the tiny, active larvae from each other by making it impossible for them to eat the other eggs before they crawl away looking for prey. Amazing little insects!

Here’s more about brown lacewings.

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The lacewing was not the only critter hiding among the roses.

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140404-0629brown and silver, orange and black

In the morning after a rain, in a client’s leafy forest garden… this beautiful gulf fritillary (Agraulis vanillae) posed at the edge of a rock. It was still chilly and wet, and this torpid insect was so sleepy that I could touch it. When I did, it opened up its wings for a few seconds…

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A few minutes later the sun finally emerged, and the butterfly opened its wings again, absorbing warmth. After about 30 seconds it flitted up into the air, soon landing on a nearby viola flower. Wake up, it’s time for breakfast!

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Gulf fritillaries are mostly tropical butterflies, whose larvae feed on passion fruit vines. They are not endangered and are surprisingly common in the Bay Area, especially this year for some reason.

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Want to encourage more gulf fritillaries in your garden? The best way is to plant a passion vine, but you can also attract them with hardy, nectar-laden tropical flowers like lantana.

The second butterfly was a real blessing. At a different client’s garden, it was right there on the blooming pieris bush, just long enough that I was able to snap a picture…

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Is it a monarch or a viceroy? This one is a monarch (Danaus plexippus) as indicated by the lack of a dark bar across the hind wing. Actually, viceroys (Limentis archippus, non-poisonous butterflies who benefit from their resemblance to the poisonous monarchs) seldom are seen in the Bay Area, being more common to the east of the Sierras.

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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.

This cute little critter posed for a few short seconds at the tip of a Salvia leaf. It’s one of the most hated crop pests in the US, where it causes huge damage to a wide variety of crops. It’s a tarnished plant bug, Lygus lineolaris.

Although it is thought of as a serious pest (so much so that it’s hard to find web pages that don’t go to great lengths describing its damage) I have only seen a few of them in this garden. Unlike farmers with crops to lose, I welcome them. If they reproduce too fast, I am quite certain somebody will come along to eat them. They seem to be native to North America.

Like all true bugs, these have “half-wings” with tough, leathery parts in front that cover the filmy flying wings folded underneath. They also have sucking mouthparts, in this case to drink the sap of plants.

Why are they such agro pests? Not only do they attack hundreds of valuable crops, they also produce several generations every year. A successful strategy for sure, but one that leads the humans to go to great lengths to try to eliminate them. Sadly, that usually means spreading huge amounts of deadly chemicals into the environment. No wonder the butterflies and bees are disappearing.

Are you tired of mushrooms yet?

You’re kidding, right?

We continue the amazing mushroom walk that happened after a Great Big Rain not so long ago …

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For a while, no new shrooms showed up. I looked in all the usual places, like this rich, red leaf litter beneath a north-facing wall. I wonder what cool critters live under there?

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No mushrooms here, but wow, what a cool composition of rock, moss, and organic debris!

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It was not until after I passed the school that the grove of trees in front of SRI became visible. On the left side of the street, an old, open forest of different kinds of trees, and under them, an unbroken stretch of mature, relatively undisturbed leaf litter.

Just barely visible in far left background of the photo above, a tiny row of white dots at the base of a tree. What do you suppose those are? Between here and there, there was much to see.

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Possibly my favorite fungus in this adventure. Dark, ear-like folds with prominent gills, and of course! The obligatory fungus fly, reddish brown, perched daintily on the edge of a cap.

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A pale yellow, wavy-edged wonder and gosh darn if there isn’t another fungus fly!

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A perfect dome, with a delicate translucent edge. No fly this time.

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Who could resist photographing these three little charmers?

Next: more forest floor charmers

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You may recall Elizabeth’s new ecogarden with the redwood rounds, the beehives, and the chickens.

These days we are calling them deep nature gardens, but the project in Elizabeth’s back landscape has continued. There was a break during the summer, partly because this nature garden space is non-irrigated, so not much happens during the dry California summer, and partly because I needed some time to figure out some of the details of the deep nature gardening business.

Changes since our last update include the removal of the walkway made of redwood rounds. Elizabeth sometimes visits the chickens at night, and does not want to risk tripping on the wooden rounds in the dark. Sounds reasonable to me!

Instead, for now we will create a leafy pathway using some of the large fig and persimmon leaves that cover parts of the back yard in autumn. Later we might create a path using crushed shells or small gravel.

Some of the redwood rounds will be used to make pathways into the deeper recesses of the garden.

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Above: During the summer we dug a little rain garden, marked out by the sticks in the photo. A test with a hose spray showed that sure enough, it works! Look at that sweet puddle. To the right of the rain garden is the path to the chicken run, now free of redwood rounds. At the left, under the edge of the fig tree, we have created a low mound using the soil removed from the rain garden. In the foreground is a plum sapling that we want to keep.

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Above: Months have passed, and the rains have come. The rain garden and the low mound have both become covered in a mixed carpet of buttercup oxalis (Oxalis pes-caprae), cutleaf geranium (Geranium dissectum), common chickweed (Stellaria media), and many more kinds of sprouts.

Trees have lost most of their leaves, covering the ground with wonderful-nutrient rich food. In the background, between the rain garden and the persimmon tree, the path to the chicken run is now covered with leaves.

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The lush, green carpet is certainly beautiful, but the highly invasive oxalis is overtopping almost everything else, and if nothing is done it will hamper many interesting kinds of plants that struggle to compete for nutrients and light. So it is now time to do some serious thinning.

The oxalis has deep bulbs, very hard to extract. For this first round of thinning I did not even try to dig down to the bulbs. I simply pulled up everything from the bulb up, by grasping each plant firmly just below the crown with two fingers. If this is done correctly, you end up holding the green plant and a long, tapering, white underground stem. The stem can be as long as a carrot, though it is much thinner. Like all the non-bulb parts of buttercup oxalis, it is edible. Sweet and tangy!

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I worked in a patchwork pattern, focusing especially on the low bank, where some pretty rocks were added during a non-photo visit while it was still summer. I’ve also cleared out part of the basin of the rain garden, leaving behind a few patches for artistic balance.

Because the bulbs are still underground, many of these buttercup oxalis plants will grow back. The new growth will be flatter to the ground, smaller, and easier to pull out. There may be two or even three of these re-sprouts from each bulb, but eventually the bulbs will become exhausted and die.

What about the rest of the oxalis-dominated area? The plan is to continue working in patchwork patterns, clearing one area and then another, always leaving behind any interesting plants that managed to sprout between the oxalis. Discovered in the above clearing operation: miner’s lettuce, groundsel, scarlet pimpernel, and many small sprouts I did not recognize.

Am I worried that the sorrel and other fast-growing plants will get ahead of me? Nope, as long as I keep coming back I can move faster than they can. Look how much I was able to clear in just two hours or so, then consider that it took nature more than three months to grow that carpet of green.

The fig tree in the background above has been pruned so that it is possible to walk underneath — but please, let’s stay on the redwood rounds!

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Above: A closer view of the rain garden and the bank, with a row of rocks holding it up. At the right, redwood rounds lead behind the bank. At the far right, the edge of the leaf-litter zone under the fig tree.

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Last, this view of the far east corner, under the newly pruned fig tree. Big, floppy fig leaves cover the ground, partly smothering the oxalis and other plants trying to grow there. Lots more wait to fall. This is good, we want to create a nice deep layer back there. Any leaves that land on the rain garden or bank will be tossed into the east corner to make it even deeper.

Also in this zone are some irises that need pruning, some old, tangled roses that need shaping, and a very out-of-place palm sapling. That one might have to go. Eventually, it would be nice to add some native shade-loving shrubbery.

It was nice to get back to work in this happy little garden space. Stay tuned for more updates!

We continue our mycological meanderings with the first Boletus encountered…

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It was in a moist, low place among live oak litter. Accompanying it, from the lower right: a seedling of petty spurge, a very tiny winter cress in the shadow of an excellent rotting branch, and an unknown plant at the top.

Boletes have pores underneath instead of gills. The spores float down vertical tubes and out into the air. The caps often have a felty, rough look and decay in wonderful, artistic ways. Many of them turn blue or green when they are bruised. That does not necessarily mean that they are (or aren’t) poisonous!

Something seemed to be glowing in the shadows…

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The photo above does not adequately convey the way the bright white rims of these three stood out. Naturally, there is the seemingly obligatory fungus fly.

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At the base of a tree with beautiful rain-enhanced bark, this neat row of big fleshy mushrooms with wavy caps.

Suddenly… mushroom pay dirt! In a front yard under a very sick, almost completely dead oak tree, an amazing outcrop of fungi.

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At first it seemed like there might be several different kinds, but then the forms merged together: this could all be Armillaria mellea, the honey mushroom, commonly seen emerging from dead or dying wood of many different kinds.

While this fungus might not have been the original reason why the old oak tree is dying, it is certainly making it happen a whole lot faster.

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This young clump emerged from the base of a multi-branched stump. Definitely lignicolous (taking its nutrients from wood). In the lower right of the photo, green leaves of delicate winter cress, closely related to Arabidopsis thaliana, the miniature rock-cress that is so popular among genetic researchers.

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Another sweet young clump, nestled among delightful micro-flora of the forest floor, also emerging from dead oak stems.

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An older clump, fully expanded and just beginning to decay, probably coming from an underground oak root. Note the tasteful white narcissus.

Next: Jackpot!