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seeds

130430-0809

The first “domestic” (human-bred-for-hugeness) strawberries of the year are now almost ripe. This is the first year that the volunteer strawberries in the container garden are receiving the brand-new seed-free ultra-compost, and it shows. Just look at these beauties!

The red-veined stems in the left rear belong to another volunteer, a strapping young seedling of Swiss Chard. It will be relocated into a new pot before it outgrows this one.

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130430-0814Yum. These are not the only nearly-ripe domestic berries. There are at least 30 more in various pots throughout the upstairs container garden. All of them sprouted as volunteers, right out of the seeded eco-compost (which contains many seeds of food plants, having been created partly from kitchen scraps).

The sturdy young plant pictured at right is also being fed the new seed-free ultra-compost. It has sent out six tendrils (one is not visible in this picture) three of which are being rooted in another pot, which is out of frame below.

Looks like a good year for big, fat strawberries!

Meanwhile, deep in the shadowy recesses of the deep nature garden downstairs, the smaller wild strawberries have been blooming and fruiting for several weeks already. Those wild berries are small, but wow, what flavor they have.

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Always, with commercial agriculture, it seems like we have to compromise between flavor and nutrients on one hand, and sheer production mass on the other. Which is better?

I like the results when commercial strains are carefully grown with lots of love, hand-pruned and hand-fed, to create huge berries that actually taste good, that can be left to ripen naturally until they are bright red and plump. Yum!

But those little wild type berries sure are tasty.

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This time of year we see bittercress (Cardamine spp.) in gardens around the Bay Area. It is related to the Arabidopsis thaliana “research cress” that is used around the world in genetic plant research.

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There are several species that are difficult to distinguish. If it’s blooming now, in January-March, it’s probably hairy bittercress (C. hirsuta). If it blooms in early summer it could be little bittercress (C. oligosperma). There are a couple of other less common varieties. All of them are small, cute, and totally harmless.

Although hairy bittercress is native to Europe, in my experience it is not at all invasive. You might read other opinions though!

130303-1431From the earliest stages, bittercress is distinctive. The rosette of tiny, pinnate leaflets with one larger, terminal leaflet is unique.

No matter whether you find them invasive or not, please don’t spray herbicides, as some authors suggest.

Instead, may I suggest you eat them? They are small, brightly flavored, and excellent as a flavor enhancer in salads. All parts of the plant are edible.

These tiny gems are always welcome in my gardens. They need moist, nearly bare ground to grow, and are often seen in shady corners where the moist ground has recently been slightly disturbed. Their sweet little flowers are tiny and inconspicuous, but their exploding seed pods are extremely cool.

As you might expect, bittercress tastes fairly bitter. But chop a few of these miniature leaves into a micro-salad for a nice little extra bite of sharpness. They are high in vitamins and very good for you, as long as you don’t spray refined chemicals in your garden.

By the time they start looking like the mature plants surrounding the pretty rock in the picture below, they are past edible. I generally pull them out at this stage, enjoying the mini-explosions of their ripe seed pods, spreading more seeds of this delicious little salad enhancement all over my welcoming garden.

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121205-1613

We’ve had some rain lately and every little space is sprouting up with lots of green. Here at the edge of the gravel parking space the dirt between the stones has exploded into life. All those seeds were right there in the soil, through all the hot baking summer days, driven over repeatedly by many cars and trucks. Amazing that they are still viable!

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There are at least 20 kinds of seedlings in here! Sadly, all of this mixed salad has to be pulled out. But we can still enjoy its green lushness, thanks to pixels and bits.

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Sedges have edges and rushes are round.

I think I learned that line in high school. Sedges, like grasses, have flat, long leaves. But unlike grasses, they have three-sided stems with edges. Rushes, which also resemble grasses, have long, thin, round needle-like leaves that usually stick more or less straight up in bunches.

This sedge is probably tall flatsedge, Cyperus monandrus. Most gardeners pull these out right away, knowing they can incredibly invasive. But in this deep nature garden, many otherwise invasive plants are allowed to get a small space of their own. This tall flatsedge has a nice semi-shady place. It has built itself into a lovely little clump that attracts various interesting critters.

If you decide you’d like a small (or large) clump of sedge in your nature garden, here’s a bit of advice. If you don’t want to be pulling out thousands of sedge sprouts, cut off the seed heads as soon as they are ripe.

Here’s an idea: display them in a place that their seeds will not spread all around the garden. How about mounting them near a bird feeder, maybe over a cement deck? Little birdies like to eat sedge seeds.

Or you could be a fanatical deep nature art gardener like me and enjoy the beautiful seed heads as they naturally age in place — and I guarantee you’ll be pulling out sedgelets forever, just like me.

Now that our new name is chosen and the new business is officially started it seems appropriate to have a flashback to one of my earliest manifestations of deep nature gardening.

Above is a container ecosystem garden, created way back in 2007 just a few weeks before this picture was taken. It features a strong young nettle plant reaching for the sky. There are also two kinds of sorrel: white sorrel that grows from bulbs (see the flowers?) and yellow sorrel that grows by runners. There’s a tiny patch of scarlet pimpernel down in front. Just visible at lower right, partly hidden by the rim of a pot, is a foxglove seedling that grew quite large and produced a whole series of beautiful flowers. Also present just in front of the nettle: a small Egyptian walking onion that sprouted from a bulblet that was deliberately planted. This is the only plant that was deliberately placed in this container. Everything else sprouted from the seeded eco-compost.

You might notice that large areas of the earth in this container are bare. In those early days, I was quite zealous about keeping some spaces clear so that interesting, unknown sprouts could emerge. I still do this, but not to such a great degree.

This particular mini-garden has the unique distinction of being the oldest container ecosystem in the collection that is still evolving and growing. To this day, it remains in almost the same spot at the south corner of the deck, still hosting a never-ending variety of volunteer plants and attracting its own cool kinds of bugs and other critters. It gets more sun now that the magnolia tree has been removed.

How does it look today? Remember the happy springtime raspberry bush and later its tiny little berries? It sprouted several years ago in this very container, and has now crowded out almost everything else, except for some sorrel and clover. The pink and white rocks are still there, hiding under the leaves. It looks like the raspberry bush is on its last legs now, though, so it might be time to clear out some of the sorrel and scatter a bit more eco-compost. What will grow among the dying canes?

This container has been through a whole series of evolutions, and there’s still much more to come!

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Remember the many-flowered feverfew in its massive, blooming glory?

In most traditional gardens such a plant would be cut back or completely removed once its main flowering burst is done. But in this deep nature garden, many plants are allowed to have a full, natural life.

In this case, the fading flowers on top have gone to seed, and the seed heads have now begun attracting new kinds of bugs and even some small birds who seem to be eating the seeds.

Meanwhile, new stems have sprouted from the base among the earlier ones, bearing even more of those happy little flowers.

Now this healthy feverfew not only hosts pollinating insects, it also shelters a whole new community of critters on its old seed heads.

Will the new shoots keep coming in, or will this honored plant eventually die a normal death, after its long blooming and fruiting season? Either way, tiny new feverfew plants are now sprouting all across the garden.

The pyracantha shrub at the extreme east corner of the garden is bursting with abundant berries. Actually, they are technically not berries but pomes, similar in structure to apples and pears. Each fruit contains a tiny clump of seeds surrounded by flesh that is bitter but edible – to both birds and humans. Here are two recipes for pyracantha jelly. I haven’t tried either one yet.

Also known as firethorn, pyracantha is native to Europe and Asia. There are several species with berries that are white, red, or yellow. They also have exceptionally nasty thorns, making them good shrubs for human-impenetrable security hedges.

This particular firethorn used to be a giant ovoid of dense leaves enclosing a thick mass of spiny branches. It was frequently sheared back by gardeners with their awful hedge trimmers. Sadly, there are no photos of its original rather ugly shape. When I took over the garden I chopped it back all the way to stumps, but those were allowed to remain and try again.

It sent up dozens of new stems, many of which I simply pulled right off. New wood emerging from old was very easy to break! In the picture at right (taken in November, 2011) the entire space framed was originally filled with a tall, globular mass of spiny brown branches, covered by a thin shell of tiny leaves.

Within weeks a new, beautiful form grew in, with a radically different shape.

It kept on growing and growing and the remaining shoots became thicker, denser, and more vigorous. Each stem became covered with even more amazingly nasty thorns than the ones the plant used to bear. Each thorn is as long as my little finger, with a super sharp needle point at the tip. Pruning such a vastly spiny creature can be challenging, but the reward is a plant of rare beauty.

In May of 2012, when it had already become taller than the six-foot fence behind it, it covered itself with thousands of gorgeous white flowers that attracted bees, flies, beetles, and many more pollinating insects. Standing next to it, one could hear the combined buzzing of all the bugs.

By  this time it was clearly getting out of control. Although it was densely in bloom, its wide-spreading branches were intruding across the path, causing human pedestrians to risk getting punctured by the sharp spines.

Reluctantly, I pruned it back, right in the middle of its blooming phase. Not good for most plants, but this pyracantha, invigorated by its recent complete chopping back, didn’t seem to even notice. Now the garbage collection guys and my neighbors could pass by without damage.

By June 2012 the flowers had dropped their petals. In their place were vast bunches of small green fruit, promising an abundant crop. One of the smallest, lowest branches of the bush was already so heavy with fruit that it broke off at the base. This was to happen to several other small branches during the rest of the summer as the fruit became heavier and riper.

The berries ripened and turned red quite suddenly, taking less than a week from green to punchy, fluorescent crimson. Now this proud pyracantha stands like a thorny sentinal at the east corner of the deep nature garden.

What a wonderful adaptation! What excellent design! How fun it is to blow the seeds off the head!

Dandelion is Taraxacum officinale, or one of its close relatives. T. officinale was originally imported from Europe, and has now spread widely through North America, where some of the native Taraxacum species are now endangered.

It is a composite flower, meaning that the “flower” is actually a collection of many small true flowers, some of which bear the petals along the outside edge and most of which fill the yellow center. Each of the seeds is produced by one of the true flowers.

Rather than write lots about this well-known, completely edible, very common plant, which some people might think of as a weed, I refer you to the excellent Wikipedia page about dandelions and their many closely related relatives. Enjoy!

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after a pause

a time like death

the pod splits open

revealing a living seed

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I’m back after a time of silence. It was good to get away from public presence for a while, to think about life and calling and stuff. As you might imagine, there are a lot of thoughts and feelings around the ecogardening projects. It seems like some adjustments in strategy might be appropriate, based on what has been learned lately.

The passion is deep, the commitment is strong. Now, how to proceed to find a viable calling?

Watch these pages for updates on this ongoing evolution.

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It happens almost every year somewhere in the ecogarden. A large, robust grassy plant sprouts up, growing rapidly. Although I usually pull out almost all grass plants because they tend to be incredibly invasive, there are several kinds of grass that might be left alone. One of them is wheat.

This one sprouted in a container alongside verbena and sorrel. All winter it grew, and in early spring it went to seed. Now its huge spikes are nodding, laden with heavy grain. I don’t know where the original seed came from, but this variety of wheat now seems to be a permanent part of the biota in the ecogarden.

There are several species of wheat, with complex genetics. Some have two, four, or even six complete sets of chromosomes. It has been cultivated for at least 11,000 years after originating in the middle east. Like many old food crops, it has been selectively bred by humans until it is distinctly different from its wild ancestors.

This Wikipedia article has lots of great information about wheat and its history.