Dragon Flower Farm Feed

50 Ways to Love Your Larvae

Achemon_sphinx
Achemon sphinx moth larvae (caterpillar), on native grape.
 

When it comes to providing more habitat for pollinators, it really doesn't take much to see results. My brother's been amazed to find monarch caterpillars after adding one milkweed, and swarms of bees supping from a sole aster. Here at Dragon Flower Farm, it's only been two years since we kicked off this project in earnest, and we already feel as if we live in a nature preserve. All of the photos here are from this spring and summer.
 
Black_Swallowtail
The larvae, also called instar, for black swallowtail, Papilio polyxenes.
 
To illustrate that pollinator-friendly yards are easy-peasy to create, I've penned this parody for you, inspired by both the Paul Simon original and the play on the song that aired on The Muppet Show when I was a kid, "50 Ways to Love Your Lever." I apologize in advance for the excessive corniness, but hey. I live in the Midwest now.
 
Monarch
Monarch larvae on Asclepius incarnata (swamp milkweed).

50 Ways to Love Your Larvae

The problem is all inside your yard, I say to you
The answer is to see it ecologically 
I'd like to help you get more than a bird or two
There must be fifty ways to love your larvae
 
I say I don't mean for this to sound at all lewd
After all, it's earnestness that guides me not a desire to be rude
But I'll repeat myself at the risk of starting some feud
There must be fifty ways to love your larvae
Fifty ways to love your larvae
 
Time to plant natives, David
Make it your wish, Trish
Don't pick up the leaves, Jeeves
Just let the fall be
 
Ditch your grass lawn, Dawn
You won't miss it when it's gone
Pot a new tree, Lee
You're helpin' the bees
 
Tussock_moth
The white-marked tussock moth, at larvae stage, on Amorpha fruticosa (false indigo bush).
 
It's time to plant natives, David
Make it your wish, Trish
Don't pick up the leaves, Jeeves
Just listen to me
 
Ditch your grass lawn, Dawn
You won't miss it when it's gone
Pot a new tree, Lee
You're helpin' the bees
 
Monarch_into_chrysalis
Monarch positioning for chrysalis stage.
 
I say it thrills me to see you've made it this far
I hope there is something here that will help our little instar
That word might confuse you but it just means caterpillar
You know, the fifty ways
 
I say feel free to sleep on all of this tonight
And I believe in the morning you'll know my words are right
But don't freak out too much when you know you've seen the light
There must be fifty ways to love your larvae
Fifty ways to love your larvae
 
Time to plant natives, David
Make it your wish, Trish
Don't pick up the leaves, Jeeves
Just let the fall be
 
Ditch your grass lawn, Dawn
You won't miss it when it's gone
Pot a new tree, Lee
You're helpin' the bees
 
Monarch_chrysalis
Monarch chrysalis.
 
Time to plant natives, David
Make it your wish, Trish
Don't pick up the leaves, Jeeves
You just listen to me
 
Ditch your grass lawn, Dawn
You won't miss it when it's gone
Pot a new tree, Lee
You're helpin' the bees
 
Monarch_butterfly

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Don't Forget to Take Your (Food) Medicine This Fall. Plus, a Special Discount for CITF Readers!

Hazelnut
Native hazelnut, going dormant for fall here at Dragon Flower Farm.

By Lindsey Thompson

In East Asian medicine, food is itself medicine. Food theory runs on two important principles. One, specific culinary ingredients will nourish the organs directly associated with the current season. Two, by nourishing the organs of the season, you are also strengthening and preparing your body for good health in the following season. This takes seasonal eating to a different level than simply eating what is available locally in that season. Spices, stock choices, and whether or not you cook your food are all part of the seasonal eating strategies in East Asian medicine food therapy.

As I write this post, we are well into autumn, the season of the lungs and the large intestines. Autumn is a time when we battle moisture from rains, dryness from cold air and wind, and temperature swings moving ever towards the colder direction.

This weather will start to dry out our skin, our nostrils, and maybe even our lungs. If your lungs are ‘drying’ out, then you’ll notice that slight ache when breathing chilled air, or you may have a dry cough in the mornings and late afternoon without being sick.

The lungs and large intestines are considered in charge of our skin, our nostrils, and our immune system. They are associated with the ability to grieve properly, experiencing nostalgia, and the ability to let go of thoughts, feelings, and emotions that we do not need. In autumn, it's normal that if the lungs or large intestines need to be strengthened, instead of experiencing nostalgia, you may actually feel melancholy and a lack of inspiration. Or if the large intestine needs more attention, you may find it hard to let go of negative thoughts, emotions, and even small interactions that normally wouldn’t bother you. Physically, you may feel slight tension in your chest, struggle a little more with phlegm, and tend towards dry or cracking skin. If you notice these symptoms, then it is a great time to start incorporating some food therapy.

Snakeroot
Snakeroot, aka boneset, a late summer/early fall wildflower, fills in the gaps left by falling leaves at Dragon Flower Farm.

The color of the lung system in Chinese medicine is white, and its flavor is pungent. Both of these associations become important for autumn food therapy. The pungent flavor includes aromatic and spicy culinary flavors, such as perilla leaf, cardamom, cinnamon, cumin, curry, pepper, and chili peppers.

The pungent flavor helps lung function. It helps to open up the pathway in the lungs, break up mucus, and circulate qi or energy through your chest. If you feel melancholic and notice tension across your pectoral muscles, adding in aromatic spices to each meal will be important. Moderate use of chili peppers can help to break up phlegm, if your stomach can handle the spice, but for melancholy, spices like rosemary, thyme, perilla, ginger, cinnamon, cardamom, and basil may be better choices, as they strongly circulate qi through the chest. Some of them also improve digestion.

A few ideas for pungent herbs: have cinnamon, cardamom, and ginger in your oatmeal in the morning. Drink teas made from pungent herbs, such as fresh ginger tea, or holy basil tea, or even a caffeinated or non-caffeinated chai tea (but skip the sugar and milk if you have phlegm. Both sugar and dairy will actually increase your phlegm production). Try baking chicken breasts with perilla leaf wrapped around them, and cook roasted root vegetables tossed in rosemary and garlic.

Perilla
Though non-native, perilla is naturalized throughout North America. Here it is growing as a volunteer at Dragon Flower Farm.

Another way to strengthen your immune system and support your lungs is to eat naturally white foods, such as pears, onions, leeks, capsicum, and cauliflower, as well as rice. Rice is considered the specific grain of the lungs. Pears are especially fantastic for people who live in a climate that gets dry in the autumn.  If you get a dry, persistent cough, adding a baked pear with a little cinnamon can help immensely. In fact, if you are prone to dry, wheezing induced by cold air in the autumn and winter, eating pears daily while in season is indicated in Chinese medicine. Another pear recipe for dry cough/wheezing, is to make a porridge with the grain called "Job’s tears" (same basic cooking instructions as oatmeal) and add slices of a baked pear, a dash of cinnamon, and a drizzle of honey.

The final way to strengthen your lungs is by eating vegetables that nourish the organ system that is considered the "mother" of the lungs: the spleen/pancreas and stomach. This works on the philosophy that the child stays healthy and strong when the mom stays healthy and strong. Orange and yellow vegetables with a hint of sweetness nourish the spleen, pancreas, and stomach. So eating a healthy dose of orange-fleshed squash such as butternut, banana, delicata, acorn, pumpkin, kabocha, and hubbard squash is what the doctor ordered. Also remember to add in carrots, sweet potatoes, and yams. I like to substitute mashed sweet potatoes and yams for regular russet potatoes.

To Learn More - Plus a Discount for CITF Readers!

Autumn-foods
Photo courtesy Lindsey Thompson.

If you’d like to learn more about how to specifically use Chinese medicine food therapy to help keep your body strong and healthy each season, Thompson Acupuncture Clinic offers a downloadable six-part nutrition video series. The series - comprising more than four hours of content - will show you how to incorporate this ancient, time-tested theory into food choices and cooking styles for each season. It will teach you how to listen to your own body in order to recognize the subtle signs that our bodies use to tell us we are drifting away from optimal health. It will then teach you how to use real food, common kitchen herbs, vegetables, fruit, spices, and proteins to bring your body back to optimal health.

CITF DISCOUNT: Use coupon code "The Flock" to get a 20% discount at checkout, good until midnight Nov 1.

Thompson+Family+Clinic+Head+Shots-0026

Lindsey Thompson holds a master's in acupuncture and East Asian medicine from the Oregon College of Oriental Medicine (OCOM) in Portland, OR, with extra training in the Dr. Shen Pulse Analysis system, an 18-month internship in Five Element Acupuncture, and advanced cupping training from the International Cupping Therapy Association. After graduating from OCOM in 2012, Lindsey volunteered with the Acupuncture Relief Project in Nepal to hone her clinical skills at their high-volume clinic in rural Nepal. She now owns Thompson Acupuncture Clinic in Walla Walla, Wash.

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Free Food from Your Yard: Mushrooms!

Reddening lepiota

By Lisa Brunette

One of the benefits of removing the turf grass in our entire backyard - which constitutes the majority of the 1/4-acre plot - is that we have a lovely carpet of native violets growing over most of it. I've raved about viola sororia previously on the blog, and the best part is that the violets arrived of their own volition, free of charge. With them, came edible mushrooms.

Pictured above is Lepiota americana, AKA 'reddening lepiota.' This gilled cap mushroom seems to be a natural companion to the violets, as all spring and summer, we found them growing in clusters nestled under and amidst the violet leaves.

We'd first noticed reddening lepiota last year, but we didn't know they were edible and thought better than to try eating them without more information. I included them in this Q&A with wildlife biologist/author Ellen King Rice - you can see how the cluster dwarfs Anthony's hand in a photo about half-way down. That convo with Ellen was a great start in getting the info we needed, as it put me in the mindset to purchase a Missouri-specific wild mushroom ID guide, to which I gave two thumb's up in a followup post. This is it in case you want to rush right over to the MDC Store and buy one right now.

Mushroom ID guide

And you should, if you live in Missouri or plan to visit and do a little foraging while you're here. If you're one of our readers from the East or West Coasts, you're better off with a regional specific guide for your area. 

Note we don't receive anything in exchange for this endorsement of this MDC publication. All of our props, kudos, and reviews are 100 percent objective, with no sponsorships or payments made in exchange for sharing our opinion. You're welcome!

So now we know with complete certainty that the mushroom pictured above is a) Lepiota americana and b) safe to eat. We've dined on them all spring and summer, and THEY ARE DELICIOUS. Let me tell you, there's nothing that makes you feel like you've got this whole survival thing down better than foraging in your own backyard. But we didn't go about this cavalierly. Let me walk you through the rather robust process.

Step 1: Try an ID App

Early on, I posted some photos of the mushroom in question to iNaturalist and got a positive ID for Reddening lepiota. I love iNaturalist and use it pretty much weekly to ID flora and fauna (177 observations, and counting!). It's also our main tool for the Shutterbee study. But I didn't stop at iNaturalist. That would have been dangerous, as the app has limitations and can give you a false result.

Step 2: Consult a Guide Book

Next, I went to the guide book to see what it could tell me about reddening lepiota. According to author Maxine Stone, it's edible, but she recommended exercising some caution, as it can easily be confused with a lookalike known as green-spored lepiota, which is poisonous.

Whoa, right? Nature doesn't mess around. Two mushrooms, similar in appearance, growing in the same part of the world, one is safe (and tasty), but the other is poisonous - not enough to kill you, but it will make you super sick. Stone points out two areas of differentiation between them: 1) Reddening lepiota bruises red and 2) it leaves a white spore print. Which brings me to step 3.

Step 3: Take a Spore Print

I know this sounds all science-y, something only botanists should do, but taking a spore print turns out to be easy like a summer breeze. All you do is separate the cap from the stem and turn the cap gills-down onto a piece of paper or other surface the spores can 'print.' Then you wait for the spores to drop - this can take anywhere from a few hours to 24. Since reddening lepiota prints white, Stone recommends black construction paper. Luckily, we have a black cutting board that works perfectly.

Spore print

Isn't that amazing? Some people turn mushroom spore prints into art, and you can see why. 

Step 4: Ask an Expert

The print supports with clearly white spores that the mushroom is likely Lepiota americana. At this point, I had 3 sources: iNaturalist, the Missouri's Wild Mushrooms guide, and the spore print. But since eating mushrooms from the wild, or in this case, the wild out your back door, carries a certain amount of inherent risk, Stone recommends reaching out to an expert, too, for an ID confirmation. So I did what she suggested and found our local mycological society, which brought me to an expert... named Maxine Stone, the author of the guide.

She was really lovely, responding right away, with a 'likely' confirmation on my reddening lepiota ID, with the caveat that she couldn't make a 100 percent positive ID in person due to the coronavirus lockdown. But at this point, Anthony and I felt we'd covered the bases pretty well.

Step 5: Try a Small Sample

We ate just one or two bites at first, waiting 24 hours to see if we suffered any ill effects; there were none, so after that it was mushroom on the menu.

Funny thing: Stone's book lists edibility on a four-point scale, with "choice" being highest. Lepiota americana is noted as two stars, or "good." This was our first foray into eating anything other than grocery store mushrooms, and we thought we'd died and gone to heaven. The taste is unlike anything we've had before, with a meaty, musky richness that explodes on your tongue. We can't wait to get our hands on one of those 'choice' mushrooms...

We simply sauté them in butter in a cast iron skillet. They redden similarly to portobello mushrooms (another ID confirmation) but have more flavor, in our opinion.

Sauteed mushrooms

So there you have it: Free food from the yard, as a result of getting rid of our lawn. These just didn't appear when we had nothing but grass.

Please note that you should follow all five steps above and exercise extreme caution if you attempt to eat mushrooms found anywhere outside. We continue to take spore prints of EVERY HARVEST on that black cutting board, just to make sure we don't inadvertently pick up a poisonous green-spored mushroom instead. We can gather a crop in the morning and have spore prints by lunchtime.

Mushroom haul

Best of luck with your own foraging forays, whether out your back door or in the wild. Be safe, be smart, and stay curious, my peoples!

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When It's Time to Take a Break from Yoga - and Go Outside

Double rainbow
View outside through the window of my spare room/home yoga studio.

By Lisa Brunette

In March of this year, the hot yoga studio I attended closed its doors due to the COVID-19 pandemic, forcing my practice homeward. This was the case with yoga studios across the United States, of course. Our spare bedroom was already set up for my daily physical therapy, so I tweaked it for yoga. Since I'd been practicing the style formerly known as "Bikram," which is the same 26 poses done every session, it was relatively easy to make the shift to home, as I had the sequence memorized. I even purchased a space heater to take the chill off the room, though it doesn't even come close to the 104°F temp of your average hot yoga studio.

Like many studios, I'm sure, mine quickly began offering livestream yoga classes... but I declined to take them. They offered them via Facebook, and as I'd left that platform entirely in September of last year, I didn't want to log back on just for yoga classes. I also felt as if enough of my life happened via video screens, since as a game writer with a home-based business and clients all over the world, I spend a good portion of my days talking with clients through video monitors. Some of these people I've never even met in real life, yet we've worked together for years.

I didn't want yoga to be one more in a growing list of things that happens through a screen.

So I made the home practice work, and it did for awhile. But when the weather turned nice, and I launched into spring vegetable gardening in a bigger way than I ever had before, I found my yoga practice waning... and then it ceased altogether.

Damselfly
The ebony jewelwing, a species of damselfly native to the U.S. My brother Jason snapped this photo on one of our hikes this summer.

Did that spell doom for my health and well-being? Not at all. I walked, hiked, rode a bike, and gardened. In place of meditation on a mat, I enjoyed a walking meditation. Instead of sweating it out in eagle pose, I was outside with the red-shouldered hawks who nest in the trees across the street and frequently touch down in our backyard. I soaked up vitamin D from all that sunshine, I breathed in air that hadn't recirculated through an HVAC system, and I saw the natural world change from spring to late spring to early summer and now to summer's end, with successions of blooms and leaves and different kinds of plants, animals, and insects living out the cycles of their lives.

Rabbit

I had a kind of "dances with rabbits" moment this spring, when two parenting eastern cottontails - one I recognized as a previous visitor because of its distinctively mangled ear - frequented my backyard with their three rambunctious offspring. Actually, I think they literally built their warren in the middle of a brush pile we'd left in a corner of the yard. Perhaps between the hospitable environment we'd created for them and my habit of spending long hours quietly working in the garden, the whole family became comfortable with me. They stayed in the yard with me for some time, the parents regarding me with apparent curiosity - and wariness, at least at first - and the youngsters frolicking around, seemingly oblivious. They were fun to watch as they made up what looked like fun games. One would surprise the other, getting a "shoot up straight into the air" reaction, and then the tables would turn as the other bunny did the surprising next time.

After several hours of occupying the yard together, the rabbits did something strange: They slowly moved closer to me. All five of them were eventually within six feet of me at once, all of us just squatting there in the garden, enjoying... life. They weren't eating or playing or running around then, just sitting, quiet and still, regarding me with their deep eyes. A spell seemed to descend on the six of us, as I sat quiet and still as well, stopping my work, regarding them in return. It was as if we shared one presence together. I'll never forget it.

Sure, you can take a cynical tact about rabbits eating your garden food, and they did gobble up a fair amount of seedlings in early spring. Maybe they felt grateful to me for the yummy treats. But as soon as their preferred food, white clover, popped up, they left my plants alone. I quite like having them around, and that moment in the garden was kind of, well, magical.

Another day, I came upon a deer as I hiked through the woods. We watched each other for some time, even while other hikers passed through, not even noticing the deer, before the deer moved further into the woods, away from the path.

I nearly bumped into a raccoon one morning in my own backyard, both of us surprised to see each other.

These two ailanthus moths took my breath away when I discovered them like this on the underside of pineapple mint leaves.

Moths

This summer I helped a snapping turtle cross an asphalt strip in a local park, moving it out of the path of cyclists and joggers. Normally I leave wildlife alone, but this turtle move is recommended by the Missouri Department of Conservation.

Snapping turtle

I've come across opossums and chipmunks, many a butterfly and bee, and once, a rather frightening-looking insect called a 'hanging thief' robber fly. In the evening, you can watch dragonflies and bats, circling overhead. They elude my camera, but hummingbirds have found a habitat here at Dragon Flower Farm, too.

Chipmunk on stupa
The eastern chipmunk, a new resident this year at Dragon Flower Farm.

While all this nature bathing is good for the body and soul, yoga is still amazingly good for you. It's helped me heal from trauma and car accidents, maintain a healthy weight, and counteract the effects of scoliosis. I've also used yoga to de-stress and feel more centered. Its power has been established over thousands of years, and it is not to be dismissed. 

I do crave the benefits of yoga, but now I consider what I've missed in a lifetime of exercise done primarily indoors. Not that I haven't practiced yoga outside - I've taken a few classes in parks in my day. But the vast majority of yoga classes - at least in the U.S. - occur inside. Sure, you can supplement with running outside, as I did for many years, or walking or swimming. But yoga is a studio activity, and that means thousands and thousands of hours logged inside over my 26-year practice, in addition to the time I already spent working, sleeping, and relaxing indoors.

Stick teepee
In a park nearby.

This year, I'm grateful for a deeper connection to the outdoors - on my own 1/4-acre, in a nature strip at a nearby park, and when I have the time, on the hiking trails here in the Missouri woods, grasslands, and wetland preserves. As I welcome yoga back into my life this fall, I don't want to miss any of nature's magical moments, even as I'm reaping the many benefits of a lifetime of practice. 

Sunset

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Tragedy Strikes the Squash Tunnel

IMG_5051

By Anthony Valterra

Yes, that is the tragic remains of the once... well, "glorious" might be a bit strong, squash tunnel (which included beans and cucumbers as well). Regular readers might recall the post about the construction of the tunnel - How to Build a Squash Tunnel out of Bamboo - for Almost Nothing. Ah, yes, those were times of innocence. As one can see by the above image, the squash tunnel is no more. The Midwest weather decided to toss us one of its regularly occurring storms, and the high winds did in the bamboo. I know, I know, you're thinking, "Isn't that the point of bamboo? It's supposed to bend in the wind?" Apparently, even bamboo has its limits. Ironically, before the storm hit, I was about to put together a post critiquing my own design. I'll do that briefly just in case someone else wants to tilt at this windmill. 

The first mistake I made was in scavenging the bamboo and leaving it out for a week before starting the construction. When bamboo is green, it bends very easily. And if one bends it when it's green and then lets it dry, it holds its shape pretty well. But if you wait until it has started to dry and then bend it, it becomes brittle. And then when weight (or a strong breeze) is applied to the bamboo, it is in danger of splitting.

IMG_1155

As one can see in the above photo, the bamboo was changing from green to yellow/brown. In other words, I was using this bamboo "too late."

My second mistake was attaching the side poles too far apart. I think the correct way to do it would be to have the first side pole about 6 inches above the ground. And then double the distance for each additional pole. So, the second one would be a foot above the first pole, the third two feet above the second, etc.

IMG_1160

As you can see in the above photo, the first pole is about two feet above the ground, and the second four feet from the first. This wide distance meant that the plant vines struggled to reach up the sides of the tunnel. When they did reach up, they often tangled in the small shoots that were left on the poles. Which brings us to my third mistake, leaving the small shoots and leaves on the bamboo poles. My thought was that this would be both attractive and practical in that the vines from our squash would have more to which they could attach. 

IMG_1162

The leaves on the tunnel are attractive in the above photo. However, they are ephemeral. In a couple of weeks, they will dry and fall off, leaving only the twig-like shoots coming off the bamboo poles. This would be fine, but there was an additional problem. The vines would attach to the twigs, but rather than the vines pulling themselves up, they pulled the twigs down. the result is that the vine would grow back towards the ground, rather than up the sides of the tunnel.

Even with all of those mistakes, we did have some success.

IMG_4994

Look at those gorgeous butternut squashes hanging in the air! It wasn't perfect, but it still had some great visual appeal. And in the end, we've concluded, that is the main value of squash tunnels - they look cool as heck. Oh, sure, they do create a bit more growing space. After all, the tunnel is over a cement path. But really the amount of room saved is pretty slight.

After the devastating collapse, my very smart and resourceful wife quickly scavenged the bamboo scraps and set up small tripods for the vines to grow on.

IMG_5057

Not as fabulous, but guess what? The squash did just fine on these tripods. In fact, the beans and the cucumbers seemed to prefer them. I don't think we will do another squash tunnel. Midwest storms are just too strong and too common. But we still think bamboo is a great building material for a garden. Especially if you have a neighbor who needs to regularly get rid of poles, and you can get them for free. But next year I think we will focus on smaller, more practical designs.

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