Feels like summer!

Spring is well underway now, although it feels more like summer, and it has been exactly as incredible as I dreamed about all winter long. When everything was white, it was so hard to picture green, but now that it’s all green we can’t imagine the ice and snow anymore, and we like it much better this way! Everything exploded into flowers and green all at once, and the weather has been warmer and sunnier than I’ve experienced in all the time I’ve been in Norway. I have sunburns on top of sunburns, on top of layers of scratches and bruises from all the exploring, planting, dragging, digging, etc as we get things going here. It feels great to be so active again. I think I might even be growing some muscles!

IMG_0204

Phoebe was born in late November last year, so she has only experienced cold and snow up to this point, and she absolutely loves this warm, sunny new world. She loves splashing in the stream on hot days and racing around the yard. She follows me around when I forage for wild edibles and tend to the garden, and she is learning to lay calmly next to me while I work instead of stamping all over the gardens. I’m almost always wearing a pouch filled with kibble and other goodies because every day is filled with “teaching moments” for a curious puppy.

The trail camera has been busy up in the forest keeping an eye on some of the larger wild creatures we share the land with.

The abundance and diversity of wildlife here is truly amazing. It seems like almost every time I see an insect it’s one I haven’t seen before. There doesn’t seem to be an overabundance of any one species; it truly feels like a well balanced ecosystem. We have plenty of small predators like spiders, lizards, and frogs roaming the gardens already, along with bees, butterflies, and countless other pollinators. The days are now so long that there are birds singing pretty much around the clock. In the back near the forest edge there are some small ponds and marshy areas that are teeming with tadpoles.

We keep some areas around the house mowed, but we generally try to tread lightly and treat most of the property as a sanctuary for nature. This helps maintain that great abundance and diversity of insects, and it means that our gardens are not the only source of food and shelter in a desert of clipped grass. Diverse plant life provides the foundation for a healthy and robust ecosystem.

IMG_0232

The stinging nettles pictured below are near the edge of our veggie garden. Nettles are known to host a great deal of beneficial insects. These ones are currently nursing some caterpillars which will develop into butterflies that will probably end up pollinating some of our garden crops.

Not only do “weeds” provide food and shelter for insect life, but many of these plants are useful to us too. Stinging nettle is considered a nasty weed by most people, but I can’t get enough of it. I’ve seriously considered asking the neighbours if I could harvest some of theirs. Despite the painful sting, it is a highly nutritious early spring food (it tastes like spinach), it makes a nice herbal tea, it has medicinal uses, it attracts beneficial insects, it is used in biodynamic preparations for the garden and can be made into a surprisingly good hair rinse among many other things. You can read more about nettles here, if you’re curious.

We’ve also been experimenting with some other wild foods like fried dandelions. Those were actually better than I expected. I started nibbling on them and demolished half the batch before they even made it to the dinner table.. oops.. but Tux just couldn’t quite get past the idea of eating dandelions so he wasn’t super into it. He’s been very open minded with all this experimenting though, which makes it a lot more fun. I normally hate cooking, but being able to use ingredients we harvested ourselves changes the whole experience completely.

img_0377

Cheerful spring salad. A mix of foraged and store bought greens, wildflowers, and the first radishes from the garden 🙂

I think I could write an entire post dedicated just to our foraging experiments, or even stinging nettles alone since I’ve focused a lot on those this spring. I know there is loads more out there to discover, but this one is just so incredibly versatile! Next year maybe I’ll try getting obsessed with a different plant. Here are some pictures of the nettle harvest and a few of the different things I’ve been doing with them:

Mixed “weeds” pulled out of the gardens are also a great salad for the chickens, which they appreciate since they have already gobbled up every microscopic bit of green that was inside their run.

Here are some pictures to give an overview of the main garden beds that we have put down so far. Everything has been planted out now except tomatoes, which I’m not entirely sure where to place or how to support yet. I’ve done a lot of research on companion planting and try to place things according to which plants will cooperate with each other. Tomatoes and potatoes, which are both in the nightshade family, seem to be the fussiest from what I’ve read, but we have plenty of space so it shouldn’t be an issue anyway.

Along the south wall of the house we have these stone raised beds which I thought would make a nice place for a herb and salad garden. The bottom step has two rows of “baby leaf” lettuce and a row of radishes which will be replaced by another row of lettuce when the radishes are done. The second step up has a mix of edible flowers. In the steps above that I’ve planted thyme, oregano, parsley, borage, lemon balm, basil, and mint. There are a few strawberry plants next to the borage because I read that they grow nicely together and I love experimenting with plant partners.

IMG_0286

Below the stone “steps” is a small hill leading down to the plum tree and berry bushes. I plan to fill this hill with different herbs and useful ornamentals, focusing on perennials like echinacea. I plan to expand and develop this herb garden over time. I’m very interested in making herbal products like finishing salts, flavour mixes, teas, oils, and perhaps even some bath products. This will also be a good place for plants like comfrey that spread aggressively by roots, because it is bordered by mowed lawn and the driveway, so plants like this won’t get a chance to invade the wild meadows and forest around us.

IMG_0313

Underneath the row cover in the picture above is a patch of strawberries that were a gift from our lovely neighbours. The row cover is there to shelter the strawberries from the harsh sun while they get established in their new home.

We have half of a rhubarb plant, which we obtained from a friend who lives in an area that hasn’t been affected by the horrific brown slug invasion either, and was kind enough to dig up part of her rhubarb to plant into our garden. It seems to have transplanted well and is growing rapidly.

IMG_0296

All of our veggie and herb beds were established on top of the existing ground using sheet mulch instead of tilling. We laid down wet cardboard, covered it with a layer of well aged, composted horse manure, and topped it with a thick mulch of hay which we got from a friend who couldn’t use it to feed his cows (the wrapping had broken open and the bale had become damp). To plant, I just make an opening in the mulch and plant seeds or seedlings into the composted horse manure. As the young plants mature the cardboard and lawn below will be consumed by earthworms and other decomposers, opening up the soil below. With this technique, the earthworms, insects, and other soil life are responsible for turning and aerating the soil while also providing nutrients for the plants and adding organic matter, which helps with soil structure, water retention, and drainage. It’s basically on-the-spot vermicomposting that aims to mimic the process in nature. The mulch provides food and shelter for soil creatures, and it acts as insulation; keeping the soil at a comfortable temperature and moisture level. It should be very little work to maintain these gardens once they are established. The soil in our gardens should become deeper, richer, and healthier over time, rather than depleted and lifeless. It will require no additional inputs of fertilizers or soil amendments other than topping up the mulch and adding some compost each year to help replace the nutrients we remove when we harvest.

IMG_0333

Earthworms are thriving in the rich compost between the cardboard and mulch layers

So far the veggies we have planted in these beds are: rainbow carrots (interplanted with radishes), leeks, swiss chard, mixed varieties of kale, lettuce, bush beans, striped beets, spaghetti squash, some kind of green pumpkin, and chives. I might be forgetting something somewhere but I think that’s everything in these beds at the moment.

Below is an example of companion planting at work:

IMG_0327

I planted carrot and radish seeds together.  The radish pictured is pretty much ready to harvest, just as the carrot seedling next to it is starting to want that space. The two plants have occupied the same place in the garden at the same time without competing with each other, and the radishes have provided some shelter and protection for the fragile carrot seedlings in their earliest days.

img_0376

The very first veggies harvested from our garden!

The peas are off to a good start and should begin climbing up the trellis strings any day now. I arranged this bed so that the lettuces will receive full sun in the early part of the day but later on, once the peas are climbing the trellis, they will be sheltered from the more intense afternoon sun. That should extend the time we can use the mature lettuces before they bolt (go to seed).

I put together a super simple cucumber/squash trellis in the orchard garden, using a couple of small forked logs and a large wire grid that I found on the wall of the barn. There is space under the trellis, so I planted some lettuce here too. I also interplanted some marigolds with the cucumbers and squashes, to try and deter hungry insects that might want to snack on them.

Here I’ve planted a few rows of potatoes, again using a no-till sheet mulch technique. The plan is to add more mulch as the potatoes start to grow, so while the roots are growing downwards, the potatoes themselves will develop up in the hay. Instead of digging them up, we just have to pull off the mulch, which should mean the potatoes will come out clean and with a nice round shape. By next year most of the mulch we added will be broken down and this bed will be ready for a new plot of veggies.

IMG_0317

The plum and cherry trees are now finished blooming, and the berry bushes look amazing after their hard pruning this winter. They were neglected for a few years before we moved here, and there was a lot of heavy old growth on them. They were much too dense and heavy, which leaves them at risk for breakage and disease. I was a bit scared after cutting so much off of them, but they do seem rejuvenated and quite happy now. From what I can see we will be drowning in fruit this summer.

IMG_0315

 

 

IMG_0314

Blackcurrant bushes are looking fresh and healthy after a severe winter pruning.

The chickens are enjoying more time outside now that their run is completely enclosed and secure. The next step is to set them up with mobile electric netting  so they can have access to fresh pastures and help us keep the grass trimmed.

We installed a couple of perches and sectioned off a dust bath area for them, and they get deliveries of fresh green “weeds” from the garden every day, plus occasional treats from the kitchen.

IMG_0306 The run includes a chicken door to the outside, which we plan to use when we (somehow) herd them back and forth between the coop and the mobile fence.

IMG_0303

I can’t say for sure but I think they are happy birds 🙂

FullSizeRender 6

The Chicken Cam is still going, by the way! We now have two cameras up, one inside and one outside. If you’re on a computer you’ll find a button next to the settings button at the bottom of the video that lets you switch cameras, but for some reason YouTube doesn’t seem to offer that option on phones or tablets at this point.

There is audio on the inside camera only. You can often hear two of the roosters taking turns crowing!

Coop camera:

 

Screen Shot 2017-06-02 at 09.54.16.png

Outdoor camera:

Screen Shot 2017-06-02 at 09.48.42.png

So now that we are getting used to having nice weather and being outside, hopefully I’ll be able to get back into making art again. It was impossible to sit inside in front of the computer when the weather first started to turn nice and there was so much to do in the gardens, but now that we have had warm weather for a few weeks and the big rush of starting the gardens is over, I think I will finally be able to start drawing again.

If you’d like to see more frequent updates about the gardens, animals and life in general at Trollgården, you can follow me on Instagram 🙂

Hope you’re enjoying spring and early summer as much as we are!

 

Moving day for the chickens!

The chickens are in the coop! What a relief for all of us. They were getting much too crowded in their brooder box, and it was a lot of work staying on top of all that poop. The coop is much bigger, so it won’t have to be cleaned nearly as often as the brooder, especially once they are spending most of their time outside. We’re also able to position the food and water dispensers farther apart, and hang them up a little higher so they are both staying much cleaner. Chickens are very busy, constantly running and flapping around, stirring things up. When I see how active and curious these guys are I can’t help but think about factory farmed chickens in cramped cages with nothing to do, how miserable that must be for them.

IMG_9881

Getting ready for the big move!

It’s so great to watch them in their new house. They are so much happier now, with space to do all their running around and squabbling with each other. They have enough room to play “keep away” with treats now too, instead of crashing into the walls. We blocked off the nest boxes for now so that they don’t establish a habit of sleeping in them. We’ll open that area up later on when they are ready to start laying. We also aren’t letting them play outside just yet because we want them to become comfortable and establish the coop as their home so it’ll be easier to keep a routine of closing them up at night later on. I tossed in a few chunks of grass that I dug up from between the stone walls to give them something to “forage” indoors. They love picking off the greens and digging through the roots for little bugs and grit. Also, they finally have a nice sandbox for a dust bath now, which they started using right away.

The webcam is installed in the coop already, so we (and you) can check in on the 24/7 livestream anytime (find that here or click the picture below) 🙂

Screen Shot 2017-04-25 at 08.27.57.png

We decided to use heat lamps at least for now, because it’s still quite cold out and I think they are still too young to handle that. The coop isn’t insulated, so without heat it’s pretty much the same temperature as the outside air.

We woke up to this the day after we moved them:

IMG_9896.JPG

I was playing on the grass in the sun with the dog the day before that! It’s snowing again as I write this… and it’s almost May already. However, the trees and bushes are really taking forever to leaf out, and I haven’t seen nettles yet. Nature knows best. I have already wasted some carrot and radish seeds out in the garden by planting much too early. I couldn’t help it. It’s hard not to be overly eager when it’s our first year here and spring seems to be moving in ultra slow motion. I’m so envious when I read blogs and see posts on instagram and everyone is talking about all their spring gardening and posting flowers, meanwhile I’m up here tossing snowballs for the dog to catch.

It does feel a bit strange to listen to all the spring bird songs while looking at this winter weather.

Hope it’s warmer and sunnier wherever you are 🙂

Speed painting

I finally finished a new soil life illustration, which feels like a major accomplishment with a puppy and ten chickens in the house!

Here is the latest drawing: Difflugia Finished small.png

This one features testate amoebae in the genus Difflugia. They live in beautiful shells built from particles collected by the amoeba living inside, much like the Caddisfly larva that people use to make unique jewelry.

I did something different when I was drawing this time, well two things actually. The first is I changed the dimension of the canvas I usually use, so it should more easily fit onto A series paper. We usually print A4 paper here, so my illustrations normally need to be cropped for printing or the paper has to be trimmed afterwards, which isn’t ideal. I realized this about halfway through drawing and decided to widen the canvas, which wasn’t too difficult, but did add quite a bit of extra work. I think it worked out okay though, and it was worth the effort to make the illustration more useful.

The other thing I did differently this time was record the screen while I was drawing. I took 19 hours of recorded drawing time and sped it up to about 40 minutes of video. The first few minutes are a bit slower so you can see the process, then it speeds up so you can watch it all come together.

Here’s a link to the video!

Screen Shot 2017-04-13 at 09.28.57.png

Facebook

I also decided to start a Facebook page! You can find that here 🙂

Is this drawing or painting?

I never know whether to say I’m drawing or painting when using the digital medium. It feels like painting when I use a bigger brush, but it feels like drawing when I use a smaller one. The stylus is basically a pen, so then it’s more like drawing with ink, but the result feels more like a very smooth painting. In a way it’s like drawing with paint, if that makes any sense. There isn’t really a unique word for the action of drawing/painting digitally at this point, so I typically use the words interchangeably because it really feels like both at the same time.

 

 

Spring is here, and so are the CHICKENS!!!

Finally, after our first long winter on the farm, the ice is receding, the stream is bubbling, and ten fluffy little birds are peeping in the living room. It feels great to finally take a little step further towards self sufficiency and sustainability, and in my opinion there is no happier sound on earth than that of peeping chicks.

We have been planning for around 6-8 hens, but we ended up buying ten chicks, since we don’t know the genders and there will surely be some roosters in there. They are a mix of different breeds that lay different colours of eggs. We originally planned to raise a breed of chickens that Tux had seen before that have green legs and lay green eggs, but I came across a farm advertising that they had chicks available from hens laying a mix of colours, and we couldn’t resist. So we actually have no idea what kind of chickens we ended up with!

The chicks are two weeks old except one that is a week younger, so they aren’t as tame or comfortable with us as they would be if we hatched them here, but we plan to spoil them with treats, so we’re pretty sure they’ll learn to like us. It’s so addictive to watch them! We have two chairs set up next to the brooder and we spend as much time as we can sitting with them.

IMG_9587

We enjoy watching them so much we set up a 24/7 live video stream! You can find that here, if you feel like you could use a smile 🙂

Screen Shot 2017-03-23 at 09.16.53

By the way, if you’re watching with audio on and you hear a lot of banging or rumbling, that’s probably one of two things (besides us walking around and closing doors etc). The chicks really like pecking on the wall that holds the camera, and they also make quite a bit of noise when they drink from their water bottle, so that might explain some of the noise. You’ll also hear us chatting from time to time as we watch them 🙂

The Brooder

Our brooder is mostly made from materials we found around the house, plus a few things that were just a lot easier to purchase. Here’s how it looks:

IMG_9578

The plastic container is a water tank we found in the basement when we moved in. It hadn’t been used before, and since it was so big Tux and my dad had to cut it in half to get it out of the room it was in. It happened to be a perfect size and shape for the chicks. The feeder is a bird feeder which we also found on the farm when we moved in. I gave it a good wash, and it seems to be working nicely. I’m amazed at how quickly they manage to empty it, though a lot of the food seems to just get kicked around in the shavings.

We bought the heat lamp and water bottle. The lamp arm came from a microphone Tux had over his desk, and it allows us to raise and lower the lamp to adjust the temperature.

The wooden divider (a board we found under the barn and cut to size) is just clamped to the sides of the tank, so we can expand it as they grow and start to need more space.

For water we are using one of those rabbit water bottles with the little metal ball (which is what makes the rumbling sound when they drink):

IMG_9545

Since they aren’t in a cage with bars to hook the bottle onto, I made a holder out of an empty plastic bottle and put rocks in the bottom to keep it from falling over.

The wooden block raises the bottle so it’s at a comfortable height, and prevents any water from dripping into the shavings.

The feeding station:

IMG_9547

They still like sleeping all piled up together in a big mass of fluff and feathers, but I nailed a small branch from the firewood pile onto two little blocks, so if they want to try roosting on a branch they have a little perch they can use for practice. Some of them do climb up on it now and then, but it doesn’t seem like they have good enough balance or stability to really fall asleep like that at this point.

IMG_9586

 

The food we’re starting with is organic chick pellets, which were kind of expensive. As we get more established we’d like to produce as much of their food as possible ourselves both to save money and make the whole thing more self sufficient and sustainable. We also want the chickens to have a more natural and varied diet which we feel will be healthier and more interesting for them than commercial pellets.

The Coop

The original intention was to have the chicken coop finished before getting the birds. That didn’t happen, so the new plan is to have it ready when they are ready for it. My prediction is that we’re going to end up with ten big chickens flapping around the living room and we still haven’t figured out what kind of fencing to secure their run with. Sometimes we just need a real push from some outside force to actually get things done. We’ve been talking about getting chickens for a very long time now, even before we bought the farm, but we still ended up slapping the brooder together the day before we got the chicks. That’s how life is when both people in the relationship are heavy duty procrastinators 🙂

But that’s ok! Things work out. We have the chicks, they seem to be doing great, even though we really have no idea what we’re doing and have to google everything.

Here’s the coop as it stands now. We’ve never had chickens before, so we decided to start out by building the coop in such a way that it’s not actually a permanent structure and if we end up liking the whole chicken thing (I suspect we will) we can build a bigger, more permanent coop or fix up the barn so it’s chicken-friendly. With a few small adjustments this coop can be used as a nice chicken tractor, or if it all goes horribly wrong we can just take it apart and forget about it.

IMG_9502.JPG

Other Spring Updates

Phoebe is growing up incredibly fast! I can’t believe how much she has changed since we first brought her home. Now that she’s a little bigger we go out hiking together almost every day. We usually spend about an hour exploring the forests around us. Phoebe loves sniffing through the moss and carrying sticks around. We have a lot of fun our walks, and I can already feel a difference in my own physical fitness since I started hiking with her.

We are incredibly fortunate to live in such a beautiful area with endless opportunities to explore and enjoy nature just outside the door.

The critter cam has been busy keeping tabs on the local wildlife. I recently moved it up the hill where I’ve noticed a lot of moose poop and tracks, so hopefully we’ll have some nice moose pictures in the near future!

Our first farm animals, the worms, are also doing very well. They have a much nicer home now than what they started in and they are thriving in there, along with enormous numbers of small arthropods and microorganisms. At this point they consume about a third of the food waste we produce, the rest goes into the compost bin outside or we send it to the township if it’s things like meat scraps or bones that we aren’t set up to compost ourselves. The worm bin doesn’t stink, even if you stick your head in it (I can say this from experience), and there is already a decent layer of rich finished compost forming at the bottom. Overall, this project is a huge success!

I’ve also been taking a Norwegian class in Notodden at the adult learning center, so altogether I haven’t had as much time to draw as I’d like, but I have been continuing work on the soil life series, here is the newest work in progress:

IMG_9474

This drawing is taking quite a lot of time, because it’s fairly detailed and takes significant time just to mentally get into working on it, especially with so much other interesting stuff starting to happen around me. Imagine drawing a gravel driveway, stone by stone.

*yawn*

Still, I do what I can when I can, and it’s getting there. The effort is always worth it in the end 🙂

 

 

 

New Gallery Website!

I’m so excited! I now have a dedicated website to showcase my soil life illustrations. It will be great to have a professional looking gallery to direct people to when they ask about my artwork. The website will focus on microbiology illustrations for now, but later on it will probably include more categories as my portfolio develops.

There won’t be any changes to my blog; I’ll continue to post here as usual and the website includes a link back here too. Eventually I’d like to add a shop page for ordering prints and stuff like that, but for now it’s just a gallery with some basic info about me and my artwork. It feels so great to have it published!

Please check out my new website and let me know what you think! I’d love to hear your thoughts and suggestions; I still have so much to learn about starting a career as a professional artist. If you have any feedback, advice, or just a story to share, I’d love to hear it!

PP logo drawing.png

http://www.protozoaprincess.com

Thanks for stopping by! 🙂

Ciliates

The fifth installment of my soil life illustration series is finished!

ciliates-final-small

The two large protozoa pictured here are of the genus Euplotes, which are common in aquatic and terrestrial habitats. I used to see them frequently in freshwater biofilms (algae slime layers) in university, and I still see them every now and then in my agricultural soil samples too. They have a long ridge along the underside with a fringe of fine cilia to help filter and draw food in. Longer cilia (the things that look like tentacles) around the cell help them to swim and control movement in the water. I still find it incredible that so much can be accomplished by one single cell, and that something this tiny can be so complex. Watching them navigate through samples searching for food is truly fascinating.

The three smaller green protozoa on the left side of the picture are of the genus Euglena. They are flagellates, unlike Euplotes which are ciliates. Another flagellate of the genus Anisonema can also be seen working its way through the soil just below the ciliates. Flagellates are also single-celled organisms, but they are typically smaller than ciliates and travel by only one or two long whip like tails, as opposed to ciliates which travel using larger numbers of shorter “hairs” called cilia. Unlike most protozoa which are heterotrophs, Euglenids often contain chloroplasts like plants, which means they can also photosynthesize and create their own food, in addition to eating food from outside sources. So does this make Euglena a plant or an animal? Euglena is not the only protozoan to give early taxonomists a unique challenge, and this lead to protozoa being given their own kingdom in taxonomy, instead of simply being included in the animal or plant kingdom.  

For the next illustration I’ll be featuring testate amoebae again, this time focusing on the genus Difflugia. This time I’m using a screen recording program to try and create a time lapse video of the entire process from start to finish. I’ve noticed that people often look a bit bewildered when I try to explain how I make these drawings, so I thought it would be interesting, and maybe even helpful, to make a video showing exactly how I do it.

It’ll probably take some time to get it done, I’m in school four days a week now and we have a new puppy in the house plus it’s time to start really getting into planning the spring gardens, so there really isn’t much time leftover for drawing. There has also been quite a bit of logging in the area for the past few weeks, and I have to say I don’t find the sound of chainsaws very inspiring to my art process, much less when it’s falling on top of general exhaustion and a tight schedule… but I’m doing what I can.

On the bright side the days are getting longer and the sun has finally started rising high enough to shine into the windows once again, and that has been a very welcome change.

FullSizeRender (1).jpg

Here’s a picture of our newest addition, Phoebe ❤

 

Predatory Fungus in Soil

This is a gruesome example of how nutrients can move through the soil food web. Drawing this scene was complicated and very challenging, but I learned a lot in the process. The other soil life illustrations took about 10-15 hours each, this one took 32 hours over the course of several weeks. I had to leave and come back to it a few times, and I’m still not sure if it’s really finished. It might be one of those pieces that never really feels finished because there is so much to look at, but I had to draw the line (no pun intended) somewhere.

This drawing requires a bit of explanation, unless you’re a soil biologist or just know a lot about the soil food web.

The main subject of this illustration is the big worm, which looks kind of like an earthworm but is actually a nematode. Nematodes are roundworms are usually very small and are unsegmented, unlike earthworms. There are over 25,000 known species of nematodes, but they are so ubiquitous that scientists estimate there are actually about a million different species of them. If you’re an avid gardener or maintain a lawn you might have heard of nematodes before, either to help fight pests or as pests themselves. I’ve seen packages of parasitic nematodes in garden centers that people can buy as a biological pest control against grubs in their lawn.

Soil nematodes are very small; you usually need a decent microscope to see them. There are a few main types of soil nematodes that gardeners are interested in: fungal feeding, bacteria feeding, predatory, and root feeding nematodes. They have specialized mouthparts according to their diet. The nematode pictured here is a root feeding nematode, with a needle-like mouthpiece called a stylet used for piercing through plant roots to feed on them. This can cause bulges or lesions in the roots, which are not good for the plant.

The fungus pictured is Arthrobotrys dactyloides. You can find a very good video demonstrating how it traps nematodes here. I used this video as a reference to get a better idea of how the fungus should look, since I’ve never seen one in the microscope myself.

Nematodes don’t have any eyes, so they find their food by sensing chemicals in the area, kind of like our sense of smell. The fungus emits something to attract the nematodes into the rings, and when the nematode swims through the ring it senses the heat and the ring cells rapidly swell up like balloons, trapping the nematode and killing it. Then, fungal hyphae (like roots) grow into the nematode’s body and begin to digest it from the inside.

In the illustration, all this is happening on the surface of a plant root. A plant which is probably very happy to have the fungus around protecting its roots from hungry nematodes.

Nematode brightened, smaller.png

As usual, if you look closely you can also see some other small critters in the picture. There are two small flagellates just above the plant root between two root hairs on the left side, and a ciliate just below and to the left of the nematode’s head. There are also scattered bacteria, demonstrating just how ridiculously small bacteria are, so small that even at this scale they just look like little specks of debris.

I kept the soil background relatively simple in this drawing because it was already busy enough with all the scraggly root hairs and fungal hyphae. I wanted to make sure it was easy to focus on the nematode and the fact that it’s trapped.

I hope this drawing, along with the others in the soil life series, will help demonstrate how complex, fascinating, and alive the soil ecosystem really is. It is essential that we as gardeners or farmers take care of our soil by protecting and encouraging a diverse and thriving soil ecosystem. Just being a bit more aware of what goes on down there is the first step towards more sustainable food production on any scale.

There are still more drawings to come in this series. I’ve already started the next one, which features some of my favourite protozoa. Here is a sneak preview of the work in progress:

Ciliate WIP smaller.png

If you would like to use my existing artwork in a publication or display, or if you want to discuss commissions of any kind, feel free to contact me using the contact button above, or you can email me directly: artborean@gmail.com.

 

Arctic Tern Painting and Winter Update

This acrylic canvas painting of an Arctic Tern was a Christmas present, so now that the gift has been given I can post it here:

img_8586

Tux’s family lives near the coast, and when we visit I enjoy watching terns hover over the water, scouting for fish before they strike. As usual with phone pictures, the colours and lighting have been exaggerated a bit. Sometimes I wish I had a giant scanner just for paintings because taking pictures of them can be quite a challenge if the lighting isn’t ideal, and in my studio it’s far from ideal.

This time of year it’s almost always dark in the house. It’s near the base of  a large hill which is higher than the winter sun, so regardless of windows we can’t see the sun at all in the depth of winter. On nice days we still get blue skies and light of course, and on a sunny day I can determine approximately where behind the hill the sun is, but we can’t see the sun itself. Now I understand why so many holidays were originally based on things like the changing seasons; we are eagerly waiting for those first golden rays to reach over the trees signaling the return of warmth and light. After living in the city for three years, now I finally understand the Norwegian love of sitting in the sunshine, and why the easter holiday is such a big deal here. On one of the first days when I was in Canada this past Christmas, I realized it was sunny outside and I stepped out onto the porch, eager to feel the warmth on my skin, but it was -15C and that didn’t quite go as I expected. I hurried back inside before my feet froze to the deck boards. It was sunny almost every day while I was there, and not every day was that cold (boxing day was +9!), so now I consider going home for Christmas to be my “sunny holiday” for the winter. Norwegians go to Spain, I go to Canada 😉

I still love winter, and we have plenty to keep ourselves busy indoors, we just can’t do much outside these days because the whole landscape is a sheet of ice. 

It’s so slippery even the cat wipes out!

I sit inside painting and planning the coming gardens, waiting. It will be a relief when we can just walk outside and not worry about breaking a wrist or tailbone. I’ve got some lovely new bruises just from walking across the backyard to check on our new wildlife camera.

Speaking of which, here is our first catch from the “critter cam”!

img_8977

There have been loads of fox tracks around and we were told that a fox lived under the barn, which is why I’m determined to keep our kitty indoors at night as much as possible. It was fun to finally see the fox itself. I’ve seen lots of moose and deer tracks in this spot too, and we were told there are badgers around too, but so far haven’t had pictures of anything other than this fox and a neighbour’s cat prowling around.

As soon as I arrived back in Norway after Christmas, exhausted and jet lagged, we took a 10 hour drive up to Trondheim to pick up our “new” 40 year old electric garden tractor, which we are very excited about. The tractor came with solar panels for charging, so it’s totally self sufficient and emission free. These were never sold in Norway; it was imported from the states and as far as we know it’s the only one of its kind here, so we are absolutely thrilled to have it. It’s something we can fix ourselves if it breaks down since it was built before everything was so high tech and built to be “disposable”, so things were made to be fixable. The tractor came with all kinds of attachments, and we are super excited to see what it is capable of. I especially love how quiet it is compared to the diesel tractor or the gas lawn mower.

img_8912

Now things are starting to feel normal for the first time in what feels like forever. There are no more major life changes on the horizon. We’re settled in, the chaos of the holidays is over and I’m recovered from all the travel and getting back into work mode. I’ve got a contract coming up soon so I have had to push myself a bit to get back into drawing, which is always difficult if I’ve been away from it for a while, especially picking up where I left off on a work in progress. The current project involves a nematode being trapped by a fungus, like this. Nature can be pretty gruesome!

Hope you’re staying cozy and warm this winter 🙂

img_8945

Winter from the kitchen window ❤ 

Mycorrhiza and.. more dragons

I’ve been spending a lot of time looking at plant roots and fungi in the microscope, and I have to admit it’s a little dull. That’s not to say I don’t like it, I mean the whole concept of mycorrhiza is super fascinating. If you’ve never heard of it, I’d highly recommend listening to the Radiolab podcast episode called “From Tree to Shining Tree“. Basically, plants and fungi actually form complex partnerships to help each other out. Nature never ceases to amaze, and it’s just another example of how little we really know about the world we’re stomping around on every day. Here’s a picture of an infected root that I took from the microscope:

img_8459

We treated the root sample (from our experimental wheat field) in the lab with a process that removes the pigments from the plant cells but stains the fungi with a dye so that they become visible to us. Sometimes environmental science is not so environmentally friendly.. and this bothers me.. but we can leave that discussion for another day. In this case the plant cells took on a bit too much colour but the fungi are still easy to spot as very dark, thin, gnarled looking threads. The samples are interesting, and beautiful, to look at and I don’t have to worry about my specimens swimming away or eating each other, but it’s just not as much fun as soil samples with living critters. These samples are very dead and analyzing them gets a bit boring after a while.

So, sometimes I feel a need to stretch my imagination at the end of a microscope session and draw some quick fantasy art, just to balance things out a little bit. I put on some music and just let loose with whatever comes out. I’m particularly fond of dragons lately. I think it’s because they are a loosely defined creature with a basic generalized form that anyone can modify to suit their own imagination. They can be mindless destroyers or keepers of ancient wisdom, depending on your mood or whatever books you’re into. There is no right or wrong with dragons, so as a perfectionist it’s a good exercise in letting go of the need to be accurate. Having said that, I have strong preferences about how to picture dragons, and I almost never see dragon art that really fits my idea of what they should look like, so I just make my own according to what feels right.

Here is the one from today:

dragon deer smaller with birds.png

I only spent about two hours on this, so it’s not as “finished” as it could be but the point was just to get the idea out of my head and not spend too much time on it.

I legitimately felt bad painting the little deer there. But then I made myself feel better by saying that this dragon is so big it wouldn’t bother with the deer.. it would be like taking time to stop and eat a sesame seed. The deer obviously doesn’t know that so just imagine its relief when the dragon just passes right over it and continues on its way 🙂

Here’s one I did a couple of weeks ago. There have been a few more in between now and then but I haven’t finished those yet so they aren’t “postable” at this point. They’ll be done soon™.

fire dragon smaller.png

That one is way too dark. Maybe one day I’ll go in and add some flames or something to brighten it up but I wasn’t really feeling it at the time so I just left it. I mostly just wanted to experiment with a profile view since I’ve been doing a lot of front view dragons lately. This one was just quickly sketched out in maybe an hour or so, at the most.

If the speed seems surprising, it’s not because I’m crazy skilled or anything like that. Imagine painting with real paint, but you don’t have to spend all that time mixing colours. If you notice something that needs changing, you can just fix it in a few seconds without having to carefully mix up all the colours again and try to get it just right. That’s basically why digital paintings like these can be done so much faster than with real paint. I could do the same thing on a canvas in about the same amount of time if I had an infinite selection of premixed paint colours available. I’ve been working on some canvas paintings lately, and I find that while I do enjoy working with real paint, it really is a different experience and it can be more frustrating at times, but also more rewarding in some ways. I could go on all day comparing digital and physical painting but I’ve done that before in a previous post and I won’t go into it again. I like them both, we can leave it at that 🙂

 

Rotifer Dragon

Introducing the Rotidragon:

rotidragon-smaller

In case you missed this post, basically I was supposed to be working on a rotifer illustration but I had this epic movie type music on and a dragon came out on the screen instead. Sometimes the soil illustrations feel a bit monotonous, and a little too down to earth (literally), so I occasionally have to mix it up by working at the other end of the reality spectrum and drawing something in the fantasy realm. Someone gave me the idea to mix a rotifer and a  dragon together, and this silly beast was the result.

My original plan was to give it a nasty spinning razor mouth but it ended up with a kind of fluffy mustache instead. I’m ok with it.

I did get the rotifer finished eventually, and now I’ve got a nematode (and probably more dragons) in the works 🙂