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One of the most fascinating projects here at deep nature central (my city apartment!) is the eco-packs, which are essentially very small container gardens. Each one includes one or more kinds of interesting seedlings or small plant starts. They are intended to be diversity enhancements for distribution to local gardens.

Most eco-packs start with a rich 50/50 mix of ultra compost and ordinary cheap planting mix. This is a mostly seed-free mix. In the center of that is deposited just a pinch of eco-mix, which contains something like 300 different kinds of seeds, including natives, domestic flowers and vegetables, and of course a wide assortment of what many people might call “weeds.”

The containers are generally either small traditional plant pots, or plastic containers harvested from our recycling bins. The container must be large enough to stay moist through a sunny, warm day, which means at least a pint or so of volume.

Once the sprouting begins, a successful eco-pack can quickly become rather crowded. Below, the lid of a container that once held a roast chicken from Safeway shows a dense collection of seedlings, many of which are ordinary invasives that need to be thinned out:

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This container is actually not an ideal choice for an eco-pack because it isn’t really deep enough. I’ll transplant this one into a larger pot soon.

Let’s thin out those weeds out-of-place plants:

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What’s left? Dominating the center in the picture above are two seedlings in the solanaceae (tomato / potato / nightshade) family. These are probably nightshade, which is very common and generally thinned out, but there are also some wonderful seeds of jimsonweed in the eco-mix, so I am keeping these until I can determine their exact identity. At the upper left are two sweet little Kenilworth ivy seedlings, one of my favorite small moisture-loving vines. Another one is at the top margin, and another one in front between the two probable nightshades. Also visible, two tiny sprouts in the carrot family, with their finely dissected leaves.

Here are more eco-packs with various kinds of interesting plants:

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This one (above) features two beautiful sprouts in the mint family, possibly lemon balm. At upper left, another little Kenilworth ivy. In the shady upper right is a scarlet pimpernel sprout, another highly invasive plant but one that is really quite pretty. It is a great ecosystem builder in young deep nature gardens, but one that must usually be cleared out as the garden matures.

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One of my favorites in the current collection is this vigorous plant on the left, sharing space with another Kenilworth ivy. This eco-pack has already been repotted once from a much smaller container, and it won’t be long before it gets repotted again. What is this beautiful young plant? It’s much too soon to be sure, but it could be statice or dock, or any of many other plants. I can’t wait to see it bloom!

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Not every eco-pack contains more than one kind of plant, or grows from seed. Here (above) are two little pots with sunchoke starts, growing from tubers. Also known as Jerusalem artichoke, these plants are in the sunflower family and will grow into 4-6 foot stalks bearing happy yellow flowers. In the fall, the stalks die back and the delicious edible tubers can be dug from the ground. Naturally, we’ll save a few for some new eco-packs!

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I can’t resist another picture of my favorite tiny vine. By now I’m sure you know what this is called!

The small white rectangle is a chunk of egg shell, one of the most visible ingredients in the ultra compost. Egg shell is a source of valuable calcium and a potent slug deterrent.

One of the best things about container gardening is how easy it is to control plants that otherwise can become incredibly invasive and unwelcome in an in-ground garden. Below: a gorgeous young buttercup oxalis grows rapidly, well on its way to sending up its beautiful, edible, tangy and delicious yellow flowers. Here in this container (and soon to be moved up to a larger one, where it will spread and grow further) it is completely under control and will provide lovely flowers and salad garnish for years to come, but in the ground in the garden it is extremely difficult to control.

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Local folks (including my garden clients and anyone else who’d like some new diversity in their garden) are welcome to receive eco-packs. Just get in touch, and I’ll tell you where I live and we can set up a time for you to stop by!

For now, all the eco-packs are free (although not all of them are available yet), but once I begin to accumulate some rare and especially interesting ones there may be a money price for those special ones.

You may recall a previous post about stinging nettles. They are now blooming, but as we shall see they are probably also doomed. First, let’s examine the delicate flowers.

Like almost all wind-pollinated flowers, those of stinging nettles are quite small and not at all showy. In fact, there are no visible petals. The tiny flowers shown here are little more than capsules the size of sand grains.

Nettles are dioecious, meaning that each entire plant is either male or female. The plant featured here is the only stinging nettle in my garden, and it is male. I am watching throughout the whole garden for nettle seedlings, which I will carefully nurture (and maybe transplant if they are not in a good place). I’d like a female plant so I can harvest some seeds.

When each male flower capsule becomes ripe, it bursts in the warm sun, releasing a little puff of airborne pollen. Watching for a few minutes, I noticed one of these puffs every thirty seconds or so from each flower-bearing stem. Sadly, I was unable to photograph a pollen-burst – they happen very fast, and in less than a second all the pollen vanishes like smoke into the air.

Here’s an even closer look at those flowers. They may look soft and fuzzy, but the flowers are just as nastily stinging as the leaves and stems!

As I mentioned, this nettle plant may be doomed. Why? Because it shares a container with some extremely vigorous sunchokes (AKA Jerusalem artichokes), which are basically strangling anything else growing there. I would have harvested all the sunchoke tubers from this container last fall, but the stinging nettle plant had many stems at that time and I just didn’t want to dive in there and dig in the soil, even with gloves on. Nettle stings really do hurt!

As a result of the non-intervention last fall, the sunchoke tubers multiplied at the expense of the nettles, and completely took over the container. In the picture below, the dense, broad yellow-green leaves belong to the sunchokes, while the last remaining nettle stems are the spindly-looking ones sticking up above the sunchokes. It seems unlikely the nettle will survive until sunchoke harvest time later this year.

In this picture you can also see a small Santa Barbara daisy, also struggling to survive, down in the semi-shade on the right side: