Wildlife at the Farm

We recently had some of our ducks and geese killed overnight. This happened last year as well. But we were never able to determine who the culprit was… fox, coyote, raccoon, opossum, owl?

I had found various piles of scat (animal droppings/manure) around the pastures, but they were too indistinct for me to tell which animal they came from.

We tried to go out late at night and really early in the morning to spot an animal. We never saw anything.

One of our farm volunteers even stayed up all night with a large spotlight in an attempt to catch a glimpse of a possible predator. Again, nothing.

So finally, after trying without success, I bought a game cam.

I first set it up near our mobile chicken coop, the Egg Mobile. We saw some rabbits and a few opossums. But that was it.

I then set it up near our sheep. Nothing.

I set it up near our pond. I saw the black and white cat that occasionally visits our farm.

But no predator that could take out 5 geese in one night (last year) or 4 ducks and one goose in one night (this year).

Eventually, I set up the game cam at the treeline bordering our pastures.

Here is what we found:


I am disappointed to see the coyote on the farm. The coyote is the likely source of our animal losses (although the bobcat may be contributing for sure). We know that if coyotes are hunted heavily, litter sizes increase dramatically. So in our attempt to fix the problem, we are actually making it worse. For now, I am still working on a plan to deal with the coyote, but I am not sure yet how I will proceed.

But I am so excited to see the bobcat on our farm. To have a high level predator like this means that we have a functioning ecosystem. There is obviously a trade off with this. If we lose a few chickens or ducks to these higher level predators each year, I am okay with that. To me, this is the cost of having a farm that encourages natural diversity. And I love it.


All photos/videos in this article are ours. If you would like to use one, please let me know!

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Birdhouse Gourds!

Also known as Calabash or Bottle Gourds, Lagenaria siceraria are hardshelled gourds have been used for multiple purposes around the world. Many varieties are edible: edible fruit, edible seeds, edible leaves. Many varieties are hollowed out after they are dried. These are used as bowls, cups, bottles for water, storage containers for rice, serving dishes, serving spoons, water pipes, musical instruments, and more.

One of our Birdhouse Gourds.

The variety of Lagenaria siceraria we grew this year has been developed to make birdhouses, hence the name Birdhouse Gourds. Of all the squash/melons we grew this year, these plants were the most disease resistant and prolific. Almost no pests. And very late to developing any mildew.

Storing our Birdhouse Gourds in cardboard boxes.

We just harvested about half the gourds that had dried stems. The other half still have just a bit more maturing to do. We will let them dry out in our garage for the next 4-6 months. They are dried when the seeds rattle inside. Once they are dried, we will drill a hole in the side for an entrance. We will scrape out what we can, but the birds will do a pretty good job of cleaning out what we don’t get. We will also drill a number of small holes in the bottom for air circulation. Many people paint the dried gourds with a variety of colors and patterns, but a simple varnish or coating of white paint will also be sufficient to seal the gourds to help prevent rot. If sealed well and cared for in the off-season, these natural birdhouses can last for many years.

For best storage, the gourds should not touch each other.

I’ll share some more photos when we make convert these gourds to birdhouses… now we just have to wait 6 months!


All photos in this article are ours. If you would like to use one, please let me know!

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How a Newt Matters

It is hard to capture in words the exact feelings I have about an amphibian.

We all have something… or maybe we had something, in the past sense.

There were certain things or people or places that captured our passions as children. It may have been a specific toy. It may have been a specific celebrity, an actor, or a band. It may have been an amusement park.

Once we grow up, we often look back with fondness at that thing. We may even have nostalgia about it.

But the magic has been lost.

We’ve become adults, and so “we’ve put childish things behind us”.

Me? Not so much.

I am still enamored with almost the same things as when I was a child.

“When I became a man I put away childish things, including the fear of childishness and the desire to be very grown up.” – C.S. Lewis

I was never into celebrities. I’m not a big fan of amusement parks. And while I had a few toys I was fond of, nothing captured my interest like the natural world.

Birds, trees, mammals, rocks, fish, space, coral reefs, insects, caves, reptiles, rivers, amphibians.

That was what mattered to me.

And they still get me excited.

But there are a few select animals that still get me, well, giddy, is probably the best word.  I may hide the external manifestations of those emotions, but on the inside… yeah, it’s giddy.

The Red Eft?

That’s one of those animals. For sure.

Adult form of the Eastern Newt.

I remember reading about the Eastern Newt in my copy of the Reader’s Digest North American Wildlife book given to me by my grandfather. I read through that book countless times, and I still have that book, worn as it is, sitting on my bookshelf.

But there was something about this amphibian that captured my interest. I think it was a combination of the drastic changes this animal undergoes in its life and the absolutely stunning colors it develops.

In general, newts are a type of salamander with, typically, drier and rougher skin. There are a few other ways in which newts differ from the other salamanders, but even the experts don’t have a consensus.

Specifically, the Eastern Newt (Notophthalmus viridescens) lives a life of three phases.

In the first phase, they hatch from an egg in the water and live similar to frog tadpoles.

In the second phase, they lose their gills, change their color, and move to the land; this is the “eft” or terrestrial stage of life, and they live similar to lizards. As an eft, they become bright, almost glowing, reddish-orange, and are one of the most beautiful creatures on earth.

The third and final phase is the adult stage where they turn an olive green and return to the water to live a fully aquatic life once more.

The Red Eft, the terrestrial phase of the Eastern Newt’s life.

As a child, I wanted to find a Red Eft about as bad as a child could want anything.

I spent hours outside whenever I could. Growing up in South Florida, I was surrounded by lush vegetation and wildlife. I found animals of all types.

There were the relatively common Brown and Green Anoles (lizards), large Cane Toads, and Mockingbird chicks found in our yard.

There were the Eastern Mosquitofish, Apple Snails, and baby Muscovy Ducks found in the nearby canal.

Then there were also the less common animals.

For a short time I cared for (with significant help from my mother) a Mangrove Cuckoo with a broken wing, a baby raccoon (which may have actually been an opossum), recently hatched Alligator Snapping Turtles (they went back to the canal pretty quick), a Scarlet King Snake (their bites do not hurt), a Green Water Snake (their bites really hurt), a whole long list of other snakes, a Cuban Tree Frog (it loved to eat cockroaches), and even a Basilisk Lizard (yes… they really can run on water!).

But never did I find a Red Eft.

Fast-forward 25-30 years.

We have now lived on our farm in East Tennessee for about 18 months. We have been slowly repairing an unhealthy landscape that has been overgrazed with cattle and damaged with chemicals. We’ve been seeing a return of life in the soils and pastures. The land has started to heal.

Then a few days ago our current WWOOFer, Jacob, showed me a photo he took of an unknown gecko-type animal.

There it was!

A Red Eft!

The Red Eft found by Jacob, our WWOOFer!

All those exciting emotions I had when flipping over logs and wading in canals came flooding back.

I was giddy.

Unfortunately, the photo was taken hours earlier, and so the animal was already gone. But there was an Eastern Newt on my farm!

In addition to my childhood interests, this Red Eft got me excited for an entirely different reason. It means that our efforts to regenerate the ecosystem on the farm is working.

You see, amphibians are indicators for environmental health. They can be used like canaries in a coal mine. Historically, canaries were brought into coal mines because they are more susceptible to toxic gases, like methane and carbon monoxide, than humans. The canary would die before these gases rose to levels that would kill the coal miners. If the miners noticed the canary was dead, usually because they realized the bird had stopped singing, the miners then had time to get out of the mine before they were killed.

Amphibians breathe and drink through their thin skin, and they are exquisitely sensitive to environmental toxins. As canaries were used to monitor air quality, amphibians can be used to monitor environmental quality. Specifically, the quality of water that runs over and through the forests, soils, pastures, and environments where they live.

In this case, that environment is our farm.

And I now have proof, thanks to Jacob our WWOOFer, that we have newts on our farm.

But I still really… REALLY… want to find one myself!



For further reading on using amphibians as environmental indicators:


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Birding with My Daughter

I officially went birding for the first time with my 5 year-old daughter. I personally love birding (see my previous article on The Benefits of Birding for Permaculturists). I am not naive enough to think her interest isn’t, in part, because she wants to “be like her daddy”. But she has been expressing a growing interest in birds that seems to be more than just trying to mimic me, and I definitely want to foster this.  At night, she reads through an old copy of my Sibley Guide to Birds before bed, so I do believe this is a real interest for her.
The "Beginning Birder Set" I put together this Christmas.

The “Beginning Birder Set” I put together this Christmas.

For Christmas this year, one of her gifts from me was a “Beginning Birder Set” I put together. It included a couple of birding books for kids and a kids pair of binoculars. She has been asking to go birding with me since Christmas, but due to my work schedule we had to put it off. Yesterday, while I was at work, she took her new binoculars and her backpack, filled it with snacks, a water bottle, and her new birding books, and went birding on her own around the house! Well, I was not working today, and so were finally able to go out together this morning. We only lasted about an hour with temperatures in the mid 30’s F, but we had a great time… more importantly, SHE had a good time!
She correctly ID’d a couple birds entirely on her own, and she was the first to spot quite a few birds as well. I had a blast watching her! One of my favorite parts was her asking, “When can we go birding again?!”
White-Throated Sparrow

White-Throated Sparrow (source: http://hughvandervoort.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/04/White-Throated-Sparrow-53.jpg)

Here is a list of the birds we spotted. Not too bad for a first birding foray:
  • American Crow (Corvus brachyrhynchos)
  • Common Starling (Sturnus vulgaris)
  • Eastern Bluebird (Sialia sialis)
  • Field Sparrow (Spizella pusilla)
  • Northern Flicker (Colaptes auratus) – photo at the top of this page. (Source: http://news.nationalgeographic.com/content/dam/news/2016/10/17/northern-flicker-bird/01-northern-flicker.jpg)
  • Northern Mockingbird (Mimus polyglottos)
  • Red-Tailed Hawk (Buteo jamaicensis)
  • Red-Winged Blackbird (Agelaius phoeniceus)
  • Song Sparrow (Melospiza melodia)
  • White-Throated Sparrow (Zonotrichia albicollis)
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Spiders Is Good!



I don’t quote movies often, but I occasionally will repeat a random quote from a random movie, Fletch Lives. One character, Calculus Entropy (an undercover FBI agent) meets Chevy Chase in a run down house infested with insects. He sagely states, “Spiders is good. They eats the cockroaches.”

I have use that line many times, first because it’s kind of funny, but second because it is so true.

We have been at our farm for just over a year, and I am so excited to see the pastures coming back to life. I went out the other morning, and the pastures looked as if they were decorated with jewels as the sunrise shimmered in the dew on hundreds of spiderwebs.

When we consider the pasture’s food web, we know that there needs to be exponentially more insects (i.e. spider food) than spiders to support these predatory creatures. So when I see hundreds of spiderwebs, I know that there are thousands upon thousands of other insects. This means our pastures are filled with life instead of dead due to chemical fertilizers, herbicides, and pesticides. And this is a really good thing!

(see my related article: We Have Dung Beetles!)


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Designing A Custom Native Plant List

The first Permaculture Ethic is Earth Care. This can be realized in many different ways depending on appropriate context. Personally, as my family is preparing for our move to the farm, I have been in massive planning mode. For us, one aspect of planning for Earth Care will be the planting of native plants. There are a number of reasons for planting native plants including:

  • Restoring a native ecosystem
  • Increasing wildlife habitat
  • Increasing wildlife food sources
  • Pollen and nectar source for native pollinators
  • Pollen and nectar source for beneficial insects
  • Pollen and nectar source for honeybees
  • Ancillary forage source for domestic animals on the farm
  • Sources of herbal/plant-derived medicinals

Again, there are a number of things to consider when compiling a list like this, and I thought I would share how I built my list. I wanted plants that are:

  • Native. These are plants that should, typically, be designed/well-suited for my climate and grow the best. Of course, this is not always true with how the land has been used/abused/cleared.
  • Commercially Available. Yes, it is possible for me to find wild specimens and collect seed, divide, etc. But this is significantly less practical right now. I may do this in the future, but for now I will need to purchase these plants. Ideally, I will be able to get seed for these plants.
  • Attract Beneficial Insects, Pollinators, and Honeybees. This was described above, but it is important enough to reiterate. These plants provide food sources for birds, bats, native bees, bumble bees, parasitic wasps, predatory wasps, predatory insects, etc. All these animals greatly reduce pest damage (and many diseases by reducing the pests that introduce the diseases) and increase pollination rates. This equates to higher yields with less damage. It also increases general biodiversity with its many known and unknown benefits.
  • Non-Toxic… mostly. When I started looking through all the plants that met the above criteria, I decided to eliminate certain plants that were known to be highly toxic to people or livestock. Plants like White Snakeroot (Ageratina altissima var. altissima), Butterflyweed (Asclepias tuberose), and Green-Headed Coneflower (Rudbeckia laciniata), to name but three, attract beneficial insects, but can also kill a cow or a child. That is not compatible for us. There are a number of plants I did chose to keep that are potentially toxic to horses, but since we don’t plan on keeping horses, these plants fit within our context. In addition, there are other plants, Black Cherry (Prunus serotina) is one example, that is known to have toxins in pretty much all parts but the fruit; however, the birds and I enjoy the fruits so much that I thought I would keep this one on my list. Finally, I kept a number of plants that have “some reports of toxicity”. This may mean that if a plant or person eats too much of it, they can get sick, so keeping a wide variety of plants mitigates this risk. I believe that many plants are harmful if eaten in excess, but a cow taking a nibble once in a while may have a health benefit – the plant may be slightly anti-parasitic, or it may contain certain trace nutrients an animal needs in very small quantity. I do know that these plants existed with grazing and browsing animals for a long time before we got rid of them, so it stands to reason that if a plant is not deadly toxic in small amounts, it likely deserves a place on a regenerative farm.
  • Non-Invasive. This can be a little controversial. I will likely be adding some plants to my landscape that some people would not because of a “risk of invasiveness”. I believe many “invasive plants” are only invasive because we have degraded the land so much that these plants are the only ones able to grow on it anymore. If we are dealing with healthy soils and pastures and forests, then many (NOT ALL) of these invasive plants are not a problem. With that said, I will not actively be planting Ironweed (Vernonia spp.) or Trumpet creeper (Campsis radicans).
  • Finally, and this is more of an organizational method, I wanted a variety of plants that would flower throughout as much of the year as possible. You will see below how this works.

Let me know walk you through how I created a list of Native Plants for a Tennessee Permaculture Family Farm. How do you start?

You may happen to live in an area where someone has already created a seed mix. Peaceful Valley has a seed blend for California called the Good Bug Blend. For the rest of us, we need to make our own list and obtain our own seeds.

One great resource for lists of North American native plants that attract pollinators is the Xerces Society. Their site has a List of Regional Bee-Friendly Plants. Find your area and start a spreadsheet or list of plants for your area.

Another amazing resource (if you live in the USA or Canada) is the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center of The University of Texas at Austin. They have an extensive listing of native plants that are commercially available. There is a listing for each plant that also provides its blooming time. I recommend you find your state or province on their Collections Page. Add this list to your master list.

Next, I evaluated each species for invasiveness and for toxicity to humans and livestock. I utilized a number of sites for this including the NRCS Plant Factsheets, the Center for Invasive Species and Ecosystem Health, and Cornell University’s Plants Poisonous to Livestock.

Using the above resources, I created a list of plants that met my criteria (yours will probably be different). I then made a table where I highlighted the months when the plant blooms. Next, I rearranged the table so that the plants were listed in order of bloom time. In addition, I left a blank for additional notes, and I color-coded the plant name based on its growth habit (Vine, Herbaceous, Shrub, or Tree).

This is the result:

Microsoft Word - Design Your Own Good Bug Blend - 4.docx

Microsoft Word - Design Your Own Good Bug Blend - 4.docx

Microsoft Word - Design Your Own Good Bug Blend - 4.docx


Click to download a PDF of this document: Native Plants for a Tennessee Permaculture Family Farm

I hope this article provides you with some tools and motivation to produce a custom native plant list. While it takes a bit of research and time, this list will be a reference for your land forever. To me, that is time well spent!


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Photo References:

  • https://kimsmithdesigns.files.wordpress.com/2012/04/cornus-florida-rubra.jpg


The Benefits of Birding for Permaculturists

I am an amateur naturalist. I absolutely love nature. I love being in the natural world. I love studying nature and all the sciences encompassing and surrounding it. I love that I am still mesmerized and in awe of nature. I love trying to understand the natural world, and I love that there is so much I know I will never understand.

One of my favorite areas of nature (among so many favorite areas) is Birding. The term “Birding” is a great balancing point between complete amateur and paid professional. Bird watching is a more passive experience than Birding, and some Birders will get quite offended if you call them “bird watchers”. Birding is more of an amateur science, unless you get paid for it, and then you are kind of considered an ornithologist. So “Birding” it is.

With pun intended, Birding dovetails nicely with Permaculture. Permaculture Principle One tells us to “Observe and Interact”. Birding requires quite a bit of observation, and this is where a Birder can get really lost in the world of birds. Of course there is the appearance of the bird itself, the shape, size, colors, patterns, etc. There are also the differences between the males and females, and the differences in coloration between the seasons. And then there are the bird calls and sounds, and the variations in sex, location, and time of year. Add to that the variety of flight patterns seen between bird species and other behaviors… any of these factors may be the key to identify similar species. For me, I never just drift off when I am outside, because there are so many things for me to see. I am in constant observation mode.

Principle One is the obvious correlation between Permaculture and Birding, but lets look a little deeper. Permaculture Principle Ten tells us to “Use and Value Diversity”. By keeping track of the birds we have on our land, we can keep tabs on one facet of the biodiversity we aim to increase. If we are designing and implementing good Permaculture projects, we should see a steady increase in the variety of bird species on our property. Of course, we need to keep in mind that many of our favorite foods to eat and also attractive to birds as well, but I’ll take a few (I said a “few”, not a lot!) lost berries for the increase in biodiversity. Besides, many of these birds will also eat our pests.

What about Permaculture Principle Eleven, “Use the Edge, and Value the Margin”? There are many species of bird that only inhabit the edge – that place between field and forest, water and land, valley and mountain Most other bird species will primarily be a field, forest, ocean, or land inhabitant, but will spend significant time in the edge. Understanding the edge will help you understand how to be a better Birder, and vice versa.

We can go even further with Permaculture Principle Six, “Produce No Waste”. There are many items that can be used as bird feed, bird shelter, and bird perches. Every perch we place give us a location for free manure deposits. Bird manure makes a great addition to the compost pile. Consider placing a small bucket of leaves, straw, or dried grass clippings under a perch or bird feeder, then dump the contents every so often into the compost pile.

Birding also keeps a person outside, which is considerably healthier than the alternative. Birders stay active. They stay engaged with their environment. It keeps them mentally moving. Besides the physical, emotional, mental, and possibly even spiritual health benefits, Birding also offers children to get in touch with nature. I won’t get deep into this subject, but it has been proven over and again in the scientific/medical literature that children who interact with nature are healthier all around. I love to hear my two-year old daughter tell me to come and look at “her” birdfeeder when a bird lands on it… and yes, she really does have one that is hers. I love it when my five and six year old boys tell me the names of the birds they spot. They are not experts, but really, neither am I. I am just a little obsessed. But I can think of a lot of worse things to be obsessed about. At least there are a lot of benefits with this obsession. And really birds are just amazing… they are beautiful and interesting and fun to listen to… and they can fly!

If you are interested, I have decided to make my Birding Life List public on this page. Feel free to take a look and let me know how you compare!


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Photo References: All photos are mine. If you would like to use them, please let me know!

Seventy Distinctive Mushrooms (Part Two: 11-20)

As I discussed in my recent article, Fighting Fungophobia (or Mycophobia) …the fear of mushrooms, here is a list of 70 Distinctive Mushrooms.

Seventy Distinctive Mushrooms (Part One: 1-10)
Seventy Distinctive Mushrooms (Part Two: 11-20)
Seventy Distinctive Mushrooms (Part Three: 21-30)
Seventy Distinctive Mushrooms (Part Four: 31-40 )
Seventy Distinctive Mushrooms (Part Five: 41-50)
Seventy Distinctive Mushrooms (Part Six: 51-60)
Seventy Distinctive Mushrooms (Part Seven: 61-70)

This list of mushrooms comes from David Arora, mycologist extraordinaire and author of Mushrooms Demystified and All That the Rain Promises and More. I’ve added photos and a brief paragraph about reported edibility, characteristics, distribution, and habitat. Remember, this is not meant to be an identification guide but rather an introduction to some pretty amazing and representative mushrooms. The mushrooms on this list are all found in the United States (my home), but the majority are also found outside of North America.

A quick note on edibility: I am listing whether the mushroom is considered Edible or Poisonous or Deadly Poisonous. Understand that all mushrooms should be cooked before being eaten. Even edible mushrooms can cause gastrointestinal upset (nausea, vomiting, stomach cramping, and/or diarrhea) if the mushrooms are not cooked. Yes, some people can handle raw mushrooms in small amounts (mainly just the common, grocery store “button mushrooms”), but most will succumb to symptoms if they eat enough raw mushrooms, especially wild mushrooms. Also, note that some edible mushrooms may cause gastrointestinal symptoms for some individuals and none for other individuals. One species may cause some symptoms for one person but not for another. It is variable. If it is your first time consuming a new type of mushrooms, go slow. Eat a little bit one day, and if you do well, then consume a bit more the next day. If you still have no problems, then you can likely eat that type of mushroom with no issues. Finally, note that most anyone has a good chance of getting gastrointestinal symptoms if they eat an excessively large amount of mushrooms of any type. Just like if a person eats a whole pot of bean-laden chili… watch out! Keep it in moderation, but have fun!

Seventy mushroom listings and photographs will take a lot of space, so I am going to break the list up into ten species segments. I recommend reading David Arora’s books as well as some local field guides. Then go outside and get to know the fungus among us… er, you, I mean.

Here are the next ten:

11. Jack-O-Lantern Mushrooms (Omphalotus species)
12. Blewitt (Clitocybe nuda)
13. Man On Horseback (Tricholoma equestre)
14. White Matsutake (Tricholoma magnivelare)
15. Honey Mushroom (Armillariella mellea group)
16. Fairy Ring or Scotch Bonnet Mushroom (Marasmius oreades)
17. Death Cap (Amanita phalloides)
18. Destroying Angels (Amanita ocreata, A. verna, A. virosa, A. bisporigera)
19. Fly Agaric (Amanita muscaria)
20. Ceasar’s Amanita (Amanita caesarea group)

Here is the list again with photos and accompanying paragraph of additional information:


Jack-O-Lantern Mushrooms (Omphalotus species)


Jack-O-Lantern Mushrooms (Omphalotus species)

11. Jack-O-Lantern Mushrooms (Omphalotus species): Poisonous. Causes profuse sweating and gastrointestinal distress. Sometimes confused with Chanterlles (Cantharellus cibarius), which we will review later; however, the Chanterelle has white flesh, while the Jack-O-Lantern has flesh about the same color as the cap. These bright orange to yellow-orange mushrooms (with occasional olive tones in the western North American species) often glow in the dark! Cap size: 1.6-6.3 inches (4-16 cm), may get to 9.8 inches (25 cm). Found in forests around the world, on or around hardwood trunks, stumps, or buried wood.



Blewitt (Clitocybe nuda)


Blewitt (Clitocybe nuda)

12. Blewitt (Clitocybe nuda): Edible (very good). Distinct purple hue that is more subdued in North American varieties. Color is darker in mature speciments, lighter in younger ones. Said to have an odor reminiscent of frozen orange juice concentrate. Cap size: 1.6-5.5 inches (4-14 cm), but can get to 7.1 inches (18 cm). Common in Europe and North American, and also in Australia where it was been introduced.  Found growing in organic matter (woods, brush, compost piles), commonly in leaf litter. Often growing in an arc or ring (a.k.a. Fairy Ring).



Man On Horseback or Yellow Knight (Tricholoma flavovirens or T. equestre)


Man On Horseback or Yellow Knight (Tricholoma flavovirens or T. equestre)

13. Man On Horseback or Yellow Knight (Tricholoma flavovirens or T. equestre): Deadly Poisonous. Traditionally, this was a highly regarded mushroom, very popular in Europe. David Arora states it is excellent and flavorful in his book… written 25 years ago. In the last fifteen years, there have been some reports of poisoning after ingesting this mushroom, including a few deaths, all in Europe. How can a mushroom that has been eaten, and prized, for so long suddenly start killing people?

– It could be that people were dying from this mushroom for a long time, but it was though to be something else… the people who died from this mushroom got sick 3-4 days after ingestion.
– It could be that the poisoning was wrongly attributed to this mushroom… this is unlikely, as I found the medical journal articles discussing these poisonings, and the mushrooms were reported to be positively identified.
– It could be that the people had allergic reactions and not a “poisoning”… again, unlikely, as these patient had well documented poisoning, not allergic reactions.
– It could be that only some people react to a compound in this mushroom while others do not… this is possible, as the specific toxin has not been identified.
– It could be that sometimes this mushroom produces a compound that is poisonous and sometimes it does not… this possibility is most worrisome, but also not likely.
– It could be that the mushroom produces a compound that is not significant when consumed in small amounts… very possible, as all the victims consumed three consecutive meals of the mushrooms; maybe our body just cannot handle too much of this compound.

Bottom line, there are too many questions. I will just avoid this mushroom as there as so many others that are edible and not controversial! Cap size: inches 1.6-3.9 inches (4-10 cm), but can get to 7.9 inches (20 cm). Common in Europe and North America, at least. Found in grassy, sandy, or shrubby areas typically with Pine (Pinus species), but has been found with Aspen (Populus species) and Madrone (Arbutus species).



White Matsutake (Tricholoma magnivelare)


White Matsutake (Tricholoma magnivelare)

14. White Matsutake (Tricholoma magnivelare, previously Armillaria ponderosa): Edible (highly prized in Asia). Likely the same species as the Japanese Tricholoma matsutake, which can sell for $2,000 per kilogram (roughly $1,000 per lb)! The appearance is a rather non-descript (to my non-professional eyes), large, white mushroom. The odor is the key to identification, and it is caused by the production of methyl cinnamate and 1-octen-3-ol… most people just say they smell like Red Hots and dirty socks! Cap size: 2-7.9 inches (5-20 cm), but can get to 13.8 inches (35 cm). Common in Asia and in the Pacific Northwest of North America, but can be found throughout northern North America all the way to the east coast (including Cape Cod). Found growing in forests, thickets, and in pine barrens, under mixed conifers, second-growth Douglas Fir, or under acid-loving (ericaceous) shrubs.



Honey Mushroom (Armillaria mellea)


Honey Mushroom (Armillaria mellea)

15. Honey Mushroom (Armillaria mellea group): Edible. There are a number of closely related species here known as the Honey Mushrooms, for their color, not their taste. Some consider them a nice substitute for Shiiitake mushrooms. These mushrooms can have a lot of shapes and colors, but there are six relatively constant identifiers: (1) they have a veil (the structure attached to the stalk that originally covered the gills). (2) a tough, fibrous stalk. (3) small, dark hairs on the cap. (4) bitter taste when raw. (5) it grows only on wood, although sometimes the wood is buried under the soil. (6) white to faintly yellow spores, a dusting of white spore dust will be seen on the mushrooms at the bottom of a cluster. Also, the mycelium may glow at night, which can may cause a tree or stump to glow… this is one cause of the phenomenon known as “Fox Fire”. Cap size: 1.2-5.9 inches (3-15 cm). Found almost all around the world. Always found growing on wood, stumps, logs, and even living trees (it can be a parasite to good trees). Found on a wide range of timber, nut, fruit, and garden trees and shrubs.



Fairy Ring or Scotch Bonnet Mushroom (Marasmius oreades)


Fairy Ring or Scotch Bonnet Mushroom (Marasmius oreades)

16. Fairy Ring or Scotch Bonnet Mushroom (Marasmius oreades): Edible (highly prized in Europe). While often growing in rings in grass, this mushroom doesn’t have to grow in a complete ring. It may grow in an arch (half-ring); also, other mushrooms grow in rings! Interestingly, the outer border of the ring will be filled with lush green grass as the mycelium spreads and helps provide nutrients to the grass; however, on the inside of the ring, the grass will often be growing poorly because the nutrients have all been consumed. This mushroom is a bit harder to identify due to its smaller size and non-unique appearance, but the cap has an umbo (or raised center… hence the name Scotch Bonnet) which will help identify it. Cap size: 0.4-2 inches (1-6 cm), but usually 0.8-1.6 (2-4 cm). Found extensively throughout North America and Europe in Summer and Autumn. Found in grass, lawns, and meadows.



Death Cap (Amanita phalloides)


Death Cap (Amanita phalloides)

17. Death Cap (Amanita phalloides): Deadly Poisonous. It is taught that every person should be able to identify the Death Cap before they eat any mushroom with gills. So here are the telltale charactersistics: (1) white gills. (2) white spores. (3) partial veil covering the gills, then breaking to form a skirtlike ring or annulus near the top of the stalk. (4) membranous white sack (a.k.a. the “volva”) at the base of the stalk. (5) margin of the cap is not striate. This may sound a bit confusing, but once you see them illustrated in a good guide book, they are easy to identify in nature. Older mushrooms will have a very bad odor (“odor of death”). Interestingly, these mushrooms apparently taste good, but 6-24 hours after ingestion, symptoms can occur and may be deadly. This mushroom is the number one cause of mushroom-related deaths worldwide. Cap: 1.6-6.3 inches (4-16 cm). Found pretty much across the globe, but originating in Europe. Found in woods or grass near trees.



Destroying Angel (Amanita ocreata)


Destroying Angel (Amanita verna)

18. Destroying Angels (Amanita ocreata, A. verna, A. virosa, A. bisporigera): Deadly Poisonous. There are a number of species with the common name Destroying Angel. Fortunately, they are all very similar – they are all entirely white (but can discolor with age), they have a fragile ring (annulus) around the stalk which often shreds, and they have a membranous white sack (a.k.a. the “vola”) at the base of the stalk. After reading about the Death Cap (above) and the Destroying Angels, unless you are a mushroom expert, just avoid eating any white, gilled mushroom with an annulus and a volva. Cap: 1.6-6.3 inches (4-16 cm). Found all over the world. Typically found in or near the edges of forest or woodlands (broadleaf and conifer, especially oaks), but can be found in grass, lawns, and meadows near trees or shrubs.



Fly Agaric (Amanita muscaria)


Fly Agaric (Amanita muscaria)

19. Fly Agaric (Amanita muscaria): Poisonous. This is the classic “mushroom” almost everyone thinks about or draws as a child. It is one of the easiest mushrooms to identify. While this mushroom only rarely causes death (one report states that no human deaths have occurred in modern times), people frequently get sick from it because it is considered one of the hallucinogenic mushrooms, and many people try experiment with it. The results are variable based on season, region, growing conditions, and a persons’ metabolism… not a good mushroom to play with. There are other, safer psychoactive mushrooms. Cap: 2-11.8 inches (5-30 cm), but can get to 15.75 inches (40 cm). Native to deciduous and conifer forests of the Northern Hemisphere, it has also been introduced to South America, Africa, Australia, and New Zealand.



Ceasar’s Amanita (Amanita caesarea)


Ceasar’s Amanita (Amanita jacksonii)

20. Ceasar’s Amanita (Amanita caesarea group): Edible (highly prized in Europe). This is considered the safest Amanita mushroom to eat due to its bright orange color. The color can fade with age, sunlight, and heavy rains… so just don’t eat those! Cap: 2.8-7.9 inches (7-20 cm), but can get to 9.8 (25 cm). Found in northern Africa and southern Europe. In North America it is found in Arizona and New Mexico as well as in Mexico and Central America. There are a few very closely related species found in the eastern United States (The American Ceasar’s Mushroom, Amanita jacksonii is a common one),but some say they do not taste as good as the European species. Found with oak and conifers.

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 Photo References:

  • http://mushroomhobby.com/Gallery/Gilled%20Boletes/Omphalotus%20olearius/Omphalotus%20olearius%2019050-2.jpg
  • http://lh3.ggpht.com/-R4o7PlQMqHQ/TLjg2a1BNFI/AAAAAAAAG5s/oF-kKg5deZc/green-mushrooms-murawski-683673-lw.jpg
  • http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/c/c3/Clitocybe_nuda_60302.jpg
  • http://www.mykoweb.com/CAF/photos/large/Clitocybe_nuda(mgw-03).jpg
  • http://mushroomhobby.com/Gallery/Tricholoma/Tricholoma%20sejunctum/Tricholoma%20sejunctum%2024170-1%20(5).jpg
  • http://www.mykoweb.com/CAF/photos/large/Tricholoma_equestre(das-2468).jpg
  • http://www.mykoweb.com/CAF/photos/large/Tricholoma_magnivelare(mgw-04).jpg
  • http://mushroomhobby.com/Gallery/Tricholoma/Tricholoma%20magnivelare/Tricholoma%20magnivelare%200.jpg
  • http://www.mykoweb.com/CAF/photos/large/Armillaria_mellea(mgw-01).jpg
  • http://farm4.staticflickr.com/3170/2958853413_3d4d41a1f7_b.jpg
  • http://www.mykoweb.com/CAF/photos/large/Marasmius_oreades(fs-04).jpg
  • http://truffleandmushroomhunter.files.wordpress.com/2011/09/truffle-champ-and-truffles-gabe-031.jpg?w=1024&h=768
  • http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/9/99/Amanita_phalloides_1.JPG
  • http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/4/4a/2011-10-26_Amanita_phalloides_(Fr.)_Link_177883.jpg
  • http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/f/fa/Amanita_ocreata_79782.jpg
  • http://www.cestaysetas.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/03/Amanita-verna-1.jpg
  • http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/3/32/Amanita_muscaria_3_vliegenzwammen_op_rij.jpg
  • http://www.mushroomhobby.com/TOP_10_MISTAKES/Amanita%20muscaria.jpg
  • http://www.fungarolimatti.it/wp-content/uploads/2011/10/Amanita-Caesarea3.jpg
  • http://mushrooms4health.com/mycelium/wp-content/uploads/2012/09/American-Caesar-stages.jpg


Predatory Gastropods… aka Carnivorous Snails and Slugs

I struggled with slugs in my garden this Winter. I live in a mild weather location, an island in the middle of the North Atlantic Ocean. Our Winters are chilly but not cold. We have no snow, but we have a lot of rain and wind, and with that rain comes a lot of snails and slugs.


Two-Toned Gulella (Huttonella bicolor) is a predatory snail introduced around the world.

In my readings on snails and slugs, and ways to eradicate them, I came across the predatory gastropods. I had known that there were a large number of these in the ocean (from my time scuba diving), and I recalled at least one in the Pacific Northwest. However, I was unaware that there are in fact a number of terestrial predatory gastropods… land-living, carnivorous snails and slugs. Cool!


Gray Lancetooth Snails (Haplotrema concavum)

Here are a few quick facts:

  • Most predatory gastropods live in the ocean
  • The terestrial predatory gastropods will eat other snails and slugs if given the choice, but if none are available, they will eat plants.
  • Predatory slugs and snails may eat their victims whole. If the victim is too large, then the predator will eat as much as it can and leave the rest hanging out of its mouth until the first part is digested. This can sometimes lead to a slug or earthworm being digested from it bottom up and still being alive to watch and feel it!
  • Predatory slugs and snails may just take “bites” out of their victims. This is accomplished with rows of teeth (radula toothlets) that rasp away at the victim… kind of like a file being slid across soft wood.
  • Snails will often pull themselves into their shells to hide from the predators. This may save some snails, but a few predators can get past this defense. Some predators will cut a hole in the shell which breaks the vacuum and allow the snail to be pulled out. One predatory gastropod can even excrete acid to burn its way into the shell!
  • There are a number of terestrial predatory gastropods in the world, and there is a good chance you have a native one near you.
  • It is best to encourage native predatory gastropods by learning to identify them and giving them a free pass in the garden, even if they do eat some of the plants.
  • I see no problem with relocating native predatory gastropods from one location to another as long as they are in their native range… i.e. you come across some in the woods near your home and you carry them back to your garden.
  • There is a BIG problem with relocating non-native predatory gastropods… e.g. the Florida Rosy Wolfsnail was relocated to Hawaii, on purpose, in an attempt to eradicate the Giant African Snail that had become invasive in Hawaii. The Florida Rosy Wolfsnail has decimated the natural Hawaiian snail population and has not touched the Giant African Snail population

Rosy Wolf Snail (Euglandina rosea) about to eat a slug.

Here is a quick rundown of some of the more well-known predatory gastropods:

  • Rosy Wolf Snail (Euglandina rosea, Family Spiraxidae): In the United States, it is found in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina and southeastern Texas. It is widespread, but usually found singly in hardwood forests, roadsides and urban gardens.
  • Decollate Snail (Rumina decollata, Family Subulinidae): Native to the Mediterranean area, but introduced widely in the United States, Bermuda and Mexico. It is widespread, but localized, in the Sun Belt from California east to Florida and north along the Atlantic coast to Pennsylvania. (Top Photo: a bunch of Decollate Snails attacking a Brown Garden Snail)
  • Gray Lancetooth (Haplotrema concavum, Family Haplotrematidae): Southern Canada to the Gulf States and west to eastern Nebraska and Oklahoma.
  • Two-Toned Gulella (Huttonella bicolor, Family Streptaxidae): Introduced from Asia or southern Africa. Widespread in the Caribbean region. In the United States, it is found in Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, and Texas. It is also found in Brazil, Nicaragua, Australia (Northern Territory), and the Pacific area.
  • Unnamed Predatory Snail (Varicella gracillima floridana, Family Oleacinidae): Found only in the southern tip of Florida.
  • Predatory Glass Snail (Daudebardia species, Family Oxychilidae): Found in central and southern Europe.
  • Dalmation Predator (Poiretia cornea, Family Spiraxidae): Found in western Europe to eastern Asia (related to the Rosy Wolf Snail above).
  • Worm-Eating Slugs (Testacella species, Family Testacellidae): Found in Europe, Africa,  Britain, and Islands in the North Atlantic. These slugs with a shell (yeah, they are still called slugs, not snails) primarily eat earthworms and live most their lives underground. There are some reports of these slugs eating insect larvae as well.
  • Ghost Slug (Selenochlamys ysbryda, Family Trigonochlamydidae): Found in the UK and Europe down to Turkey. Also a earthworm eater.

Ghost Slug (Selenochlamys ysbryda)


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Photo References:

  • http://farm4.staticflickr.com/3587/3590414352_08d80e1cdc_o.jpg
  • http://www.associatesinsectary.com/resources/2/decollates-snail.jpg
  • http://www.jacksonvilleshells.org/70582.jpg
  • http://entnemdept.ufl.edu/creatures/misc/gastro/snail_eating_snails08.jpg
  • http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/c/cc/Ghost_Slug_adult.jpg


Mason Bees… A quick overview

I just read an interesting article in the March/April edition of Urban Farm Magazine on Mason Bees. I just started a subscription to this magazine. Overall, it is a pretty entertaining read. There are a lot of great photos. There are some good articles; however, I think there are too many articles that don’t have enough depth to them. But I am a bit picky, and this is not a review of this magazine.

Unfortunately, this article is not available online, or I would have provided a link. But here are the highlights (with some knowledge gaps filled in by me):

  • Mason Bees belong to the Osmia genus of the Megachilidae family… the (mostly) Solitary Bee family.
  • Many Mason Bees are native to North America, but these species are truly worldwide in distribution.
  • Being a solitary bee, they rarely sting… why die when you have nothing to defend (a large hive)? Just fly away.
  • Their name comes from their habit of using mud in their nests (hollow reeds/twigs or narrow holes in wood).
  • Mason Bees collect pollen and pack it in their nests. It will be eaten by the Mason Bee larvae once the eggs hatch.
  • One Mason Bee can do the pollinating work of 100 European Honeybees.
  • In one day, a Mason Bee can pollinate over 1,000 flowers.
  • We can purchase Mason Bee cocoons to be shipped to us when dormant.
  • 10-20 cocoons is a good place to start.
  • Order by March at the latest, because demand is often higher than supply.
  • Hibernating cocoons can be kept in the refrigerator until ready.
  • Cocoons can be set out when the daytime weather is consistently in the 50’s F (10-15 C).
  • Set out one-third of the cocoons every 2 weeks to avoid loss from sudden weather changes.
  • We should provide holes, mud, and pollen for the bees – all within about 300 feet (90 meters).
  • Wood blocks drilled with 5/16-inch holes or straws/reeds can be used to provide homes.
  • If you don’t have any natural mud, you can just keep a pile of wet, clay-type soil on your property for the bees.
  • Pollen will be provided (hopefully) by all your plants!

Overall, Mason Bees should be integrated into our Permaculture Design. With minimal effort, we can create benefical habitat to attract them. With a bit more effort and a little money, we can actively bring them.


Drilled wood is the traditional, and still very common, method for man-made habitat for Mason Bees.

The article does go into, and actually really pushes, “keeping” the bees. In other words, actively managing the bees. This really just involves harvesting the cocoons every Autumn and storing them in your refrigerator. To be honest, I don’t think I will be doing this. While, I understand why the author is promoting this, I think it is too much. These are native bees. They can handle the environment. The more we manage them and protect their hibernation, the more we will be interfering with natural selection. We will be creating bees that end up needing to be protected if they are going to survive at all. This type of management ends up creating more work for us and less resiliency in the long run.


Straws filled with Mason Bee larvae.

My plan will be to provide plenty of really good habitiat. I’ll order some cocoons each year for a few years, and then maybe once every few years after that. I will put out new blocks or bundles of reeds for homes each year. I will maintain high levels of biodiveristy on my property. I will not be spraying chemicals of any sort. Other than that, I will be as hands off as I can. Let nature lead, and I bet I will end up with a stable population of Mason Bees with minimal on-going effort.

Of course, I say all this without ever doing it… yet. I hope in just over a year to start putting these ideas into practice. Please share any additional thoughts or experiences with us as well – leave a comment at the bottom of this page.

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Photo References:

  • http://blueberrytalk.files.wordpress.com/2008/03/mason-bee-mar08-005.jpg
  • http://blueberrytalk.files.wordpress.com/2010/05/may-2210-002.jpg
  • http://threehundredandsixtysix.files.wordpress.com/2013/02/mason_bee.jpg