iphoneography

A very few of my photos may have been shot with my 3gs (RIP). As of January 2012, I shoot with a 4s. If I process the photos, I love mobile snapseed, I sometimes use instagram. My phone is protected by a Lifeproof (waterproof housing)

Foraging with Green Deane

Took a stroll with “Green Deane” in Port Charlotte a few weekends ago. Spent a few hours walking through Bayshore Live Oak Park and the surrounding neighborhood, checking out what Florida natives and non-natives were growing- identifying edibles and non edibles. For anyone interested in gardening with edibles and/or foraging, I highly recommend Deane’s classes, blog “Eat The Weeds” and videos.

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Green Deane discussing attributes of Epazote, Chenopodium ambrosioides. Available year round in Florida. Leaves, flowers and unripe fruits are edible and used in soups and salads. The most common usage is, however, in bean dishes, for it’s strong anti-flatulent powers. To me this plant smells like bug spray.

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Hydrocotyle bonariensis, better known as Pennywort, or dollar weed. Can eat raw or cooked. Has medicinal value.

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Cladium jamaicense, Sawgrass Edible Inner bottom white core of stalk, raw or cooked. WARNING- cuts flesh easily. Use to find fishing worms and fresh spring water.

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Green Dean talking about Sea Purslane, Sesuvium portulacastrum, edible raw, cooked or pickled. Available year round.

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Abrus precatorius, Rosary pea- TOXIC reported to be the most toxic seed in the world. Avoid, as contact with an open seed can cause death.

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Bidens Alba, Spanish needles or beggar tick. Edible raw or cooked. Parts used to make tea, fermented for wine.

I usually approach life from a positive perspective, but because I have chewed on my fair share of ‘unknown’ plants, main thing I learned from my first foraging class with Green Deane is- DON’T field test plants-EVER! Verify, verify, verify what you are sticking in your mouth. There are a multitude of plants out there with edible and/or medicinal properties. There are others that can kill you or make you very, very sick. Some plants make you sick right away, others take days or weeks to make you ill. Others have a cumulative effect. There are plants that are perfectly edible when cooked, but make you sick if eaten raw; and others that have both poisonous and edible parts. Some fruits are edible when ripe, but make you sick when eaten before they are ripe. Not all plants in the same genus or family are edible- There are some edible Jasmines, but make sure you know which ones! All of this aside- I am astonished at how many ‘weeds’ growing in my backyard are edible or usable in some fashion. I recommend Green Deane’s  Eat The Weeds as one reliable resource for learning about the many native and non-native edibles growing in your area. Had a great time participating in this class, and I see myself signing up for more classes in the future!

Categories: Florida native, Garden, iphoneography, Things To Do | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Curiosity In The Garden

I love it when my sweet cat, Savannah, follows me into the garden. She is an inside kitty- usually very cautious about even being on the enclosed lanai. The only time she ever tries to venture outside is when I go into the garden. Once she is in the garden she loses herself as completely as I do. While she explores I keep an eye on the sky for raptors and enjoy her antics. It’s nice for me to slow down and see the garden through her.

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Black Soldier Fly Composting

Black Soldier Flies: A New Way To Compost

I have composted in many ways through the years.  I have made compost piles, used the lasagna method, blenderized (yeah I know it’s a made up word) and used worms to make beautiful compost and tea. I recently started converting my Sanibel yard to a ‘food forest’.  As anyone who has tackled a big landscaping project knows, soil and irrigation are the most expensive parts of the job.  I need a continual supply of compost to build up the poor soil on my property, and I need it fast!  It’s time to try composting with the help of black soldier flies.

 

The Black Soldier Fly

credit: fermentfarmandforage.blogspot.com The solitary black soldier fly (Hermetia illucens) is a beneficial and useful garden insect. It is rarely seen and often mistaken for a black wasp. The black soldier fly is harmless. It has neither a stinger or a mouth. It’s short adult life is spent breeding and laying eggs. The larvae of Black Soldier Flies (BSFL) are detritivores, useful in household garden composting. The larvae work organic waste material faster than worms used in vermicomposting. A colony of 2000 larvae can consume about 2.2 lbs of household food waste per day.  As detritivores, BSFL  break down both rotting plant and animal matter, giving the home gardener the ability to add meat scraps to their compost.

 

If that wasn’t enough good news, black soldier flies do not spread human disease as do some other flies; and black soldier flies naturally repel nuisance fruitflies and blowflies. Besides providing you with a finished compost, black soldier fly larvae are used in other ways.  The larvae are raised and sold as feeders for reptiles, tropical fish, as composting starts and are a high quality source of protein and calcium for laying hens. They are also used as fishing bait.      

Black Soldier Fly Life Cycle

Credit: blacksoldierflyblog.com

Black soldier fly eggs (pale yellow, elongated oval about 1mm) deposit their eggs in crevices or on surfaces above or next to decaying matter like food scraps. The eggs take about four days to hatch; the new larvae are off white and about 1.8 mm long.   They go through multiple instars, the last of which is reddish-brown,elongated and slightly flattened, the skin is tough and leathery.

credit to James Castner, U. of Florida

The mature larvae are about 18 mm long and 6 mm wide. During this last stage of larval development, the mouth has become a set of ‘arms’  that help a prepupate move towards a dry, safe place to await pupation to its adult form.  The adult soldier fly,  measures about 16 mm, very close in size and appearance to the wasp. It has no functioning mouth parts; it spends its time searching for a mate and reproducing. It’s  life span is 5 to 8 days. Adult Black soldier flies do not swarm are rarely a nuisance. In fact they are rarely seen.

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Do Your Research

Like microbes in the compost pile and worms in vermicomposting,  black soldier flies need certain conditions to thrive. As many gardeners find a thriving colony in their compost piles, these conditions aren’t difficult to meet, but it is a good idea to check out multiple resources so you have a good idea of what you can accomplish with what you have.

I live in subtropical SW Florida (zone 10). We have poor, salty and sandy soil. I am looking for a fast, easy, inexpensive and reliable method of producing  an ongoing supply of compost. Our ‘food forest’ is very new and is not yet producing. We are a small family and we eat out often. For the next 6-12 months we will not have as many food scraps as some families who cook regularly. I had to figure out how I was going to feed the BSF larvae. Fortunately one of the restaurants I frequent has agreed to let me pick up their kitchen scraps each evening. We both win! Less garbage in the landfill and a steady supply of food for the larvae.

Next hurdle. We live in a neighborhood where I cannot keep a traditional compost pile.  I decided to make an initial investment of a  contained unit from the folks at blacksoldierflyblog.com This BSF composter will work well for us because it is small (i.e. easy to hide) and is self-contained. I purchased the 5gal unit for $76 shipped. This is a well-engineered and constructed unit. The folks have been available to answer questions and even let me grab several photos from their blog for this story. (credits are given in links back to all the sources of photos that are not my own.) Bio-Composter-5.2014-500px

So, I have a composter and I have a steady supply of food available. Now I need BSF larvae. Lots of them. Rotting food in a composter without enough BSFL can smell and attracts bad things. This is where research is really saving me from problems with neighbors and undesirable critters. A ‘mature colony’ in my BSFL composter can process about 2.2lbs of food a day. That is somewhere around 2000 larvae. If I was in a position to go the DIY route, I could just put a small amount of food scraps in the composter and wait for nature to take its course. I wish I could be patient and wait.

Here’s what happens and it’s the stuff of CSI! Seriously, Forensic Entomologists use black soldier flies as an indicator of how long something has been decomposing.   BSFL are detritivores. This means that they consume rotting food and flesh. So if I were to start my colony the natural way, food would go in the bin and start to decay.  In nature, the fruit flies and blow flies show up first. These are the bad bugs you do not want. They are pests and vectors for human diseases. Then the solitary BSF comes along and lays her eggs near the decaying matter (in this case the provided media on the lid of the composter where the BSF lays her eggs. This is great not only because you are getting the beneficial larvae; BSF eggs and larvae emit a scent (not detectable to humans) that repels the bad bugs.  Then the life cycle begins and the amount of larvae would increase over time, according to the food supply.

Because of the potential for an initial ‘ick’ factor and the time it takes to build up a BSFL colony; again I opted to trade-off. A higher initial monetary investment for the return of more quickly developed colony. I ordered close to a thousand small and medium, and a few dozen large BSFL to add to my composter. I decided to order different larval sizes (or instars) to help the cycle establish more quickly. Time will tell how well my BSF experiment will pay off. I will be taking photos and updating as things progress. I have included links below that will help you with your own research would love to hear about your experiences with BSF composting. Thanks for reading and happy gardening!

 

Useful Links   Black Soldier Fly Blog– This is where I got a ton of  information, and where I purchased my BSF composter.   Black Soldier Fly Farming– Another great site with a forum, DIY info, etc.   The Modern Homestead– I haven’t had time to go through the blog, but this particular article on BSF is well written and informative.   Fermented Farm and Forage– Again, haven’t perused the entire blog but LOVE this post about their experiences using different composting methods, including BSF.   The Biopod– I have no personal experience with this product. It looks great and the design seems consistent with what I have read about BSF composting.   Bug Guide– This is a fantastic resource. It’s nice to identify bugs you encounter in your garden and are not familiar with.

 

 

Categories: Garden, Insects, iphoneography | Tags: , , , , , | 1 Comment

Fossil Hunting on the Peace River with Mark Renz

I first heard of Mark Renz through a fellow rock hound, who invited me to hear him speak at a Rotary Club meeting in Ft. Myers. Having recently moved to the area, my sons were enjoying their holiday break from school, and were not enthusiastic about spending their time at a lecture. Mark’s passion and enthusiasm for paleontology, nature and life, shined through his every word. The boys wanted to learn more about fossils in the area, so we decided to take a guided trip with Mark on the Peace River, in search of fossils.

I cannot say enough how much we enjoyed our time with Mark. His conversational approach to teaching allowed the boys to have fun while learning, and wow, we learned a lot! Not only did we learn how to search for fossils and identify our finds, but Mark painted a picture for us about what the area might have looked like over the past few million years, and how the animals whose bones we held, might have ended up where we found them. Our day was also filled with laughter- Mark is a funny guy! Darwin, one of his cattle dogs also came along for the ride. He was calmly reserved, well-trained and mannered fellow.

                                                                                                                                                           

Spending several hours on a dig was great for the grown-ups, but when the boy’s attentions waned, Mark gently guided them to explore the area in ways that kept them safe and engaged. He is one of those gifted and rare people who truly seems to enjoy sharing his considerable knowledge and ideas. I asked the boys to help me think of words to describe Mark- here is some of what we came up with- Smart, funny, tall, inspired, adventurous, kind.

Mark and Darwin

Unfortunately, my little camera took a dip in the Peace River on this trip, so not too much to share in the way of photos, the few here are from our iphones..

Thank you Mark for sharing with us your passion and knowledge and for inspiring us to see and do and learn! You can reach Mark and Marisa Renz through their web site Fossil Expeditions

Cypress

Here are some of our finds-

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Dugong rib fragment, Juvenile megalodon fragment, barnacle

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Puffer fish mouth fragment, Whale inner ear bone, Turtle shell fragment, sting ray grinding plate fragment

fossil shark teeth

Possible fossil alligator tooth

worm tube, coral and turtle carapace fragments

Possible shoulder bone

Deer antler fragment

Categories: Fossils, iphoneography, Things To Do | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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