October blog fun.


It’s been a snowy, blustery, busy autumn so far!  I hope things are a bit quieter (and warmer) in your neck of the woods and you’ve been able to enjoy the changes of the season.

I’m playing it short and sweet on the link front this month:

These examples of typewriter art are fantastic!   Did you learn to type on a manual or an electric typewriter, or have you never used one at all?

Alberta-based macro photographer Adrian Thysse recently posted some stellar images of fungi found in our province.  Take a close look (see what I did there?) here.

Many of you may already be following the excellent blog Garden in a City – Jason’s post about not cutting down perennial plants at the end of autumn is both timely (for those of us in the northern hemisphere) and valuable!

And here’s another great post about end-of-season garden clean-up.  What are your thoughts?  Do you wait until spring to do these sorts of tasks?

Thousands of lantern slides from the 1800’s and early 1900’s have been digitized and posted online at various sites – you can check out the databases via this link.  Incredible examples of an early form of photography.

Check out these amazing photographs of bird’s nests and egg specimens, collected over the past two hundred years and exhibited at several zoological institutions.

Stuff I’ve posted elsewhere:

A book review for Alberta author Eileen Schuh’s latest novel, The Shadow Riders.

Plus…a couple of my articles have been recently published:  “Four Centuries of Gardening” in the 2017 Old Farmer’s Almanac, and “Fall Cleaning Hacks with Herbs” in the Fall issue of The Herb Quarterly (both on newsstands now).  And…upcoming…my short story “The Beauty of Mount Sagitta” (featuring pterodactyls!  And rare plants!) will be a part of the super-toothy anthology Sharkasaurus! from Fossil Lake.  Yes, all those exclamation points are absolutely necessary….


Clip art credit.

August blog fun.



Late August: the daylight hours are waning but the garden is still toodling along and I’ve been swamped with a zillion projects. It has taken me nearly the entire month, but I’ve finally compiled my August list of fun and interesting links – I hope you enjoy them!

At this school in Gatineau, Quebec, a boulevard of dead ash trees were transformed into art, thanks to some very talented wood carvers. What a wonderful idea!

Vegetable portraiture. It’s a thing. A really beautiful thing.  Check out the work of photographer Lynn Karlin here.

Photographer Steve Axford captures fantastic fungi – click here to see.

From fungi to lichen…incredible images!

Xavi Bou experiments with chronophotography to illustrate birds in flight – these are fascinating!

Alberta-based photographer Adrian Thysse took some amazing shots of calypso orchids back in May – see them in his post here.

How we store and preserve information is examined in this interesting article about the history and longevity of microfilm.

While we’re on the subject of preserving information, history buffs and anyone interested in the culinary arts will be absolutely floored by this valuable resource: here is the full text of over 3,000 vintage cookbooks and home economics manuals.

Enjoy the rest of your week – hope it’s amazing!

Clip art credit.

Soil talk.

I was going through my (eek! seriously disorganized) photo files yesterday and I came across these two pics that I took at the community garden this fall.   The light was absolutely amazing that day in October.

Highbush cranberry2

Highbush cranberries

Mushroom in mulch

Although they look pretty, the mushrooms are symptomatic of a problem in the community garden.  Large chunks of wood mulch were used to dress the beds along the perimeter fence when the garden was built about five years ago (and by “large,” I mean HUGE – see Exhibit A, above).  It was all done mainly for aesthetics over any practical purpose and through the years, many of the chips have been dug under, creating a soil structure akin to cement.  Pore space is at a definite premium, and will eventually affect the way crops grow.  (I won’t get into the whole carbon-nitrogen imbalance thing here, but that’s an additional issue.  I recently read that bark chips can take at least a decade to decompose in soil).  To make matters worse, this year, the mushrooms turned up in full force.  LOTS of mushrooms.  Expected, sure, but definitely not welcome.  Although we made an attempt at damage control in the fall and removed some of the uppermost layers of the wood chip/soil clumps, we’ve got a long way to go to fix this mess.  Definitely a cautionary tale about using the right mulch for the job (and in this case, about not digging it in)!

Let’s talk soil and/or mulch – do you have any problem areas in your garden? 

Snow mold bugaboo.

Here it is:  the glass half-full.  As someone who suffers from intense hayfever, the cold, snowy weather and the subsequent setback of plants breaking dormancy has meant that it will be a good month or so yet before I start feeling poorly from the production of effusive amounts of pollen.

Now for the glass half-empty:  there seems to be an abundance of snow mold this year, lolling on lawns in the neighbourhood.  I’ve been sniffling and sneezing for nearly two weeks.  (Okay, I think I’m done whining now.  All expressions of sympathy can be directed to the “comments” section.  I’m big on sympathy).

So, what is snow mold and what can we do about it?  It does indeed look gross:  circular grey-white fuzzy stuff called mycelium matting all over the dormant grass.  It has a sinister quality, just lurking there on top of your lawn like a silent killing machine (not to mention, making some of us sick.  Did I mention the sneezing?).  Snow molds are fungi, and there are several different types:  the kind we probably have here in Calgary is a grey type called Typhula ishikariensis.  Fortunately, despite its appearance,  it’s not likely to cause any sort of permanent damage to turf, as it only affects leaf tissue.  (There is a pink snow mold called Fusarium nivale that can be deadly, as it destroys the crowns of plants affected.  Thankfully it’s not as common as grey snow mold).  Snow mold occurs whenever there is an extended period of snow cover on ground that is not solidly frozen.  The fungus actually lies dormant during the long, hot days of the summer, taking a siesta on the leaves of grasses as tiny black specks called sclerotia.   Any time you mow or walk across the lawn, these miniscule sclerotia go for a ride and gleefully spread, carried on your shoes or your dog’s paws or the mower blades.  Once the temperatures drop to the freezing mark in late fall, the sclerotia spring into action, germinating and producing thousands of spores.  Beneath the cozy blanket of winter snow, the fungus munches on dead organic matter and thrives until exposure in the spring.  (Snow mold cannot freeze because it manufactures special enzymes that keep it from doing so).

While there’s not much you can do about the fungus, as once it’s on the lawn, it’s pretty much taking up permanent residence, you can keep it from making a mess in the spring (and giving me sniffles).  Make sure you clean up all of your leaf litter in the fall, as the fungus holds dead leaves in the same high esteem as I would a gigantic hot fudge sundae.  And keep your lawn short – don’t forgo that last mowing of the season, and don’t leave clippings on the lawn after that final cut.  Don’t fertilize too late in the season, as a huge nitrogen spike at the wrong time can actually contribute to serious winter kill of your turf, and in less extreme cases, aid in the growth of snow mold.  And don’t walk on the lawns in the winter, if you can help it – even what seems to be slight compaction on top of the snow can motivate fungal production.  In late spring, it may be a good idea to spread the snow banks around, dispersing snow over the entire lawn to aid in a more “even” melt.

Even meticulous grooming might not prevent snow mold from rearing its ugly mycelium in the spring, but the fix is easy:  let it be.  No, seriously.  The fungus hates heat and drought and it will go dormant as the weather improves.  You can also rake the grass with a fine-tined tool and that will help immensely (but wear a mask if you don’t want to inhale the spores and sneeze repeatedly.  Like me).  I have also been told that you can use the high pressure setting on the nozzle on your garden hose and give the grass a good rinse – but do it when the day promises heat and drying winds.  If, for some reason, the lawn can’t recover from the effects of the mold, you will need to consider a prescription of topdressing and overseeding, but that’s a rare occurrence.

Glass half full:  snow mold means spring has arrived.  How fantastic is that?!


Dr. Tom Hsiang, a professor of the Department of Environmental Biology at the University of Guelph, has written some interesting stuff about snow mold at uoguelph.ca/~thsiang/snow/amazing_snowmold.pdf.



Fungi fizzle.

(I have recently made some updates to Flowery Prose.  Excerpts from this post were originally published on 26 July 2010 under the title “Odds ‘n’ Sods”).

And now, a few words about a mushroom.   A visit to a new massage therapist last week inspired me to do a little research on a fungus I had never heard of before:  Ganoderma lucidum, or Lingzhi, the so-called “Mushroom of Immortality.”  It’s a bracket fungus that has a widespread distribution, covering North and South America, Africa, Europe and Asia, but the wild forms prefer to grow on certain species of maple trees and are actually very rare finds.  Ganoderma is instead mostly cultured indoors in sterile environs.  Apparently this fungus possesses a huge range of healing powers, including the ability to lower blood pressure, lower cholesterol, AND lower blood sugar.  As well, ganoderma is being tested as a hopeful candidate to prevent cancer metastasis.  It may also strengthen and prevent liver disease.  Finally, it is used to prevent certain influenzas due to its antiviral and antibacterial properties.  Sounds like an all-around good deal, perhaps.  Ganoderma is usually taken as a tea or in capsule form, as it is way too bitter to be eaten.  I tried a cup of tea and I didn’t taste the bitterness.  Alas, despite the appealing taste, my sensitive Western stomach wasn’t too impressed.  I guess I’m going to have to pin my hopes of gastrointestinal immortality on something else!



Speaking of fascinating fungi, a roundabout link offered recently via the University of British Columbia’s Botany Photo of the Day led me to seek out timelapse video of Geastrum saccatum, or earthstar, on You Tube.   Interesting stuff to watch, and not just for botany-nerds.  (And just so you know, earthstar is extremely toxic, not to be consumed in any amount).