What’s Happening

EmetteJep:

Thanks for your comment. I hope to post more but I am not sure when that will be. I have more insect photos waiting in the wings.

Lately I have been experimenting with efficient twig-fueled cooking stoves. I am very pleased with the results. Anyone interested can find what I did by doing a search on “rocket stoves”.

I have also been experimenting with regenerative radios, trying to find the one that uses the least power and fewest number of active devices (read: “transistors”) yet performs with sensitivity, selectivity, stability and covering a wide tuning range that includes short wave as well as AM broadcast. Someday I may publish my results. So far, it seems to me that three transistors are the minimum needed for a practical radio. I have been able to get one to run a long time on the power left in a battery that, for other purposes, is essentially dead.

From my organic garden I have been eating strawberries. Also: peppermint, curly dock, dandelion leaves, wild grape twigs and leaves, lambsquarters, winter savory, sorrel, garlic chives, common chives, wild lettuce and green onions. I typically collect a bowl full of an assortment of the above, wash it, chop it up fine, mix it with a bit of mayo, and eat it with biscuits, along with a tea from roasted dandelion roots.

I also love poke. It is very tender and has a delicate flavor. I do not include it in the above mix because it needs to be boiled twice before eating (or so I have heard; being one never to doubt authority, I always boil my poke twice).

I have a potato plant I transplanted when it volunteered in an inconvenient spot. Sweet potato slips are sprouting in the kitchen window. I also have carrots raising their heads in the garden. Carrots are all I deliberately started from seed this year (so far). They are slow growers, but I am faithfully keeping them watered and weeded.

I recently dumped a good bit of compost on the raised bed garden. The compost came from worm bins kept in the basement and an outside compost pile.

I still collect rainwater and filter it with a slow sand filter. I use the filtered water to hydrate the basement worm bins. I use unfiltered water to hydrate the outside bins and keep the seedlings from wilting.

I am still eating last years’ sour kraut from a jar in the refrigerator. It has been several months since I checked what is growing in the crocks kept in the basement. Reluctance to look comes from a little fear about what I might find.

I have not baked sour-dough bread for a while but I know how easy it is to create another starter from whole wheat flower should I ever need to.

I recently learned that the secret to soft biscuits is adding sugar to the dough.

I have not used the solar oven yet this year, mostly due to a sparsity of sunny days. It looks like summer is about to put an end to our rainy season soon, though.

It has been a good spring for wild mushrooms, but I have not found any that I could identify well enough to eat.

I am still convinced we need to take a serious look at true socialism. Obamanomics, the hysteria of media lick-spittles aside, is not socialism.

I might take up oil painting again soon. I did that a bit a very long time ago but have some new ideas about mixing paint that I want to try.

As you see, I keep very busy. Blogging frequently sits on the back burner. Thanks, again, for your interest.

Curlydock

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Insectary Plants and Beneficial Insects by Curlydock

My recent surge of interest in insectary plants and beneficial insects found me in the garden with my camera. I spent about an hour taking pictures of any insect I saw and noting the plant each insect was seemingly associated with.

I did this on September 8, 2007, in my small experimental urban organic garden located in Jefferson County, Kentucky, USA. These are a few of the pictures.

I am not expert at insect identification. If you think my guesses or any other data I give are not correct, please feel free to leave a comment with your own opinion.

To avoid the use of chemical poisons, I hope to eventually have enough of the right kind of insectary plants. The theory is that the right plants will attract the kinds of good insects that predate on the bad insects. Bad insects do bad things like chewing big holes in my broccoli leaves, for example.

I understand that one should not attempt to wipe out the bad bugs altogether. Enough of the bad bugs should exist to feed the good bugs so the good bugs will stay in the garden and not have to leave in search of a meal. While this is not mechanically efficient, an argument could be made that mechanical efficiency is not a sustainable way to relate to the environment.

One should seek the productive balance innate in stabilized diversity and then not sully that balance with pollution, poisons, and the exhaustion that comes from expectations of competitively efficient exponential growth. The correct balance can be productive enough to sustain the lives of farmers and those who depend on farmers for meals, were the world not obsessed with greed.

Since the good bugs burn a lot of energy in their hunt, they need the nectar and pollen of flowers to help sustain that energy. To that end, some plants are better than others at attracting good bugs. The shape of the blossom might help or hinder the access of a particular insect to the pollen and nectar the plant offers. Also, some plants can attract aphids or insects that are specific to that plant and will not harm garden plants but will provide meals for the good bugs. Not all plants bloom at the same time, so in a diversity at least one plant will always be supplying the good bugs with what they need. It is also possible that the wrong plant would attract bugs bad for the garden or host diseases also bad for the garden.

So, it can get complicated. I need to study hard to find the right combination of insectary plants to grow in or near my garden. On the bright side, the complexity of the study is deep enough to keep one interested for a whole lifetime. One need not study rocket science to keep from getting bored. How nature grows diversity will suffice.

bumblebee

Image 417 is perhaps a bumblebee. Some think it is, instead, a carpenter bee. They look a lot alike but I understand the abdomen of the carpenter bee is slick instead of hairy. This insect is beneficial because it pollinates flowers. The bee rests on the flower head of Garlic Chives (Allium tuberosum). The bee was so still I thought it might be dead or asleep. Or drunk? When I finally nudged it, it moved sluggishly but it never flew or even buzzed all the time I was there.

image 498

Image 498 shows what seems to be a different type and much smaller bee. This one is on a marigold blossom.

image 398

Image 398 shows what I believe is a soldier beetle called Pennsylvania Leatherwing (Chauliognathus pennsylvanicus). Many say it is beneficial but at least one said this insect’s value may be exaggerated. Even if it does not eat bad insects, at least it seems to be a good pollinator of Garlic Chives, for there were a lot of these soldier beetles there.

image 490

Image 490 may be a Green Bottle Fly, I am not sure. Green Blow Flies are supposedly associated with decaying flesh, but there were a lot of these really interested in the Garlic Chives. Nothing smelled dead.

image 437

Image 437 may be what is called a “Question Mark” butterfly, but I am not sure. It rested close to corn and beans.

image 460

Image 460 shows a wasp that repeatedly returned for a drink of water from the little watering hole. Many wasps are beneficial because they predate on bad bugs.

The watering hole is made of an overturned garbage can lid. I keep it replenished with water from the rain barrel. I change the water at most after every couple of days to keep mosquitoes from breeding in it and to keep it from stagnating. I had hoped the watering hole and an adjacent shelter hole would attract a toad, but I have not seen a toad yet. I did see a blue-tailed lizard not too far from the water, but that was much earlier in the year.

image 378

Image 378 shows, I believe, the eggs of a Leaf Footed Bug or Stink Bug. The eggs were attached underneath a leaf of broccoli. I did not see any adults this day, but I have seen them before. They have hind legs that are flattened like a spatula or leaf. Some of them may be beneficial, sucking on caterpillars of bad bugs. But I suspect the ones around here are only interested in sucking juice from the broccoli.

image 379

Image 379 shows a moth caterpillar that might be an “Inch Worm”. It has been feasting on the broccoli and a bad type. I hope someday I see a beneficial insect feasting on it.

image 383

Image 383 is a young, I think, type of Harlequin Bug. They also eat the broccoli.

image 433

Image 433 is a Garden Spider, (perhaps Argiope aurantia). I understand that these spiders need a source of water. This one was about 4 feet from the watering hole and very near the corn and beans. I believe spiders are, on balance, beneficial.

In conclusion, many insects could be seen in one hour in my organic garden. Some were beneficial and some were not. Many pollinators were seen. Many destructive insects were seen. I would like to see a lot more beneficial predators. I recently transplanted some Golden Rod to my garden. I found it on a farm in an adjacent county. I have heard that Golden Rod is a good insectary plant. That it aggravates hay fever and allergies is a bad rap and is not true, from what I have read. I plan to introduce more selected flowers in the future. When I planted the Garlic Chives (Allium tuberosum) I did it for food. I did not know it was an excellent insectary too, until I saw it in action.

Seedling Identification Revisited

by Curlydock

This is the start of my second attempt at seedling identification. This time I have a technique that should remove doubt about what sprouted.

Most of the unwanted volunteers from my previous effort turned out to be tomato seedlings. I fed a lot of tomatoes to the worms, so the seeds were still viable in the vermicompost.

I still want to keep the purported advantages of organic living soil so I still have not sterilized the potting medium. In fact, I am using the same pots I used before. This time, however, the seedling of interst is clearly flagged by a ring of newspaper around the seedling. Any sprout that is outside of that ring can be “weeded out”.

Day 6 Rapini

The ring of newspaper is the top rim of what I call a “tiny pot”. The tiny pots are made from 2-inch squares of newspaper wrapped around the end of a pencil. The small cylinder thus created stays intact when the end of it is crushed closed. The seeds are planted in the open end after the tiny pots are placed into the cells of an ice cube tray and moistened.

Sprouter Tray

To get one and only one seed in each tiny pot, I used a bamboo skewer moistened on the end. Small seeds adhere to the sharp end and larger seeds will adhere to the blunt end. Don’t stick the moist skewer into your packet of seeds. The moisture on the skewer is probably not good there. Sprinkle a few seeds from your main pack into another container and pick the seeds from the other container with the wet skewer. The smallest seeds may be repelled instead of attracted to the skewer at first, but they will soon give up their static charge and stick to it.

sprouter

The particular ice cube tray used was one with a five-by-twelve grid of cells. It makes very small round ice cubes. The tray is kept in a plastic shoe box with a lid to keep the tiny pots moist. I had to use a medicine dropper to remove excess moisture from the tiny pots. You want the tiny pots damp but not soggy. I would not have had to use the medicine dropper if I had drilled a small drainage hole in each of the ice cube tray cells.

Day 6 broccoli

The seeds are carfully selected and metered. Only one seed is planted per tiny pot. However, five seeds of the same type are plated in a row. That allows 12 different types of seed to be sprouted in one ice cube tray. Of the five seeds of one kind in any one row, only the largest or most vigorous sprout is selected to plant in the larger pots cotaining the medium of unsterilised vermicompost. The others are kept for a while in case the first one did not take.

Day 6 Chard

The sprout, tiny pot and all, is moved from the ice cube tray cell and planted into the larger containter of potting medium. Do this as soon as it is obvious the seed has sprouted. Leave enough of the tiny pot visible so it will serve as a flag saying “this is the one you planted”. Pull up anything else that comes along.

Tiny Pot

The tiny pots should decay and return to the soil eventually. The piece of paper they are made from is so small that the decaying paper should not significantly deplete the fertility of the potting medium.

Seedling Identification Concluded by Curlydock

Yes, I am already halting the project I started in the previous post.

It is a bit ironic, really.

I took pictures of seedlings growing in little pots kept on this winter’s windowsill. I wanted to refer to the images when I needed to identify what was sprouting in the garden. That way I could tell the difference between what I planted and any volunteers (also known as “weeds”).

Well, the volunteers are now vigorously raising their heads in my little pots. I cannot even be certain of the identification of what is growing on my windowsill.

Go ahead, laugh.

The mistake I made: I should have sterilized the germination medium. I did not.

I knew I should have sterilized it, but chose not to. I didn’t sterilize because I wanted to keep the reputed organic benefit of the microbes that are naturally in the vermicompost.

Also, long ago I observed seeds sprouting in the worm bin and in other compost piles I have kept. Since the vermicompost I used was about a year old I assumed anything that was going to sprout in it had already done so. Then, I reasoned, the sprouts died back because there was not enough light and the worms and microbes feasted off them as “green manure”. Apparently this was not true of the volunteers.

Perhaps some seeds are not fooled into germinating in what seems to be an ideal place to do so: the moist and nutritious old compost. Perhaps they wait for some clue to know the time is right, like a change in ambient oxygen or other chemical or momentary exposure to light. Perhaps they could sense the physical disturbance when I combined the vermicompost with peat moss and egg shells to make the potting medium. I really don’t know. If any reader has an idea or a clue, please post a comment.

The next time I attempt this project (and I probably will attempt it again) I plan to germinate the desired seeds in very small plugs of potting medium after baking the medium in an oven to sterilize it. That way the desired seedling will get a head start. Then, as soon as possible, I will plant the plugs in the very center of the small pot of unsterilized medium. It won’t matter what volunteers then because the desired seedlings are already identified. The volunteers can be uprooted as they appear.