Biology, composting: immobilization vs mineralization

Organic groundskeeping leads to self-tutoring. The tutor defines two terms connected with composting.

In a properly functioning ecosystem, nutrients are constantly recycled – they are used by one organism, then released back to the soil to be retaken by another.

Immobilisation is the temporary possession of a nutrient by an organism (typically not a plant, but rather a decomposer). The decomposer needs the nutrient for its own life process. While the decomposer is alive, the nutrient it contains is unavailable to the surrounding plants.

Mineralization is release of nutrients to the environment. Now they are available to plants.

The eventual result of decomposition is mineralization. During decomposition, however, immobilization may happen.


Jack of Oracle Tutoring by Jack and Diane, Campbell River, BC.

Biology: what is a cultivar?

Horticulture can lead the amateur to self-tutoring. The tutor discusses the idea of a cultivar.

Cultivar literally means “cultivated variety.”1 In my mind it refers to a plant commonly grown, that you, also, can buy and grow, either as seed or already a plant.

A cultivar may be grown for fruit, beauty or other benefit. However, offspring from its seeds may – but may not – emulate its own qualities. Similarly, the cultivar may not reflect its parents’ traits. It may have been chosen and propagated specifically because, in some desirable way, it broke from its parents’ characteristics.

Seedless grapes or oranges might be examples of cultivars. Apparently, the tree that produces seedless oranges cannot self-propagate by pollination. Perhaps it can be reproduced by cuttings; another option might be grafting. However it’s propagated, the seedless orange tree is cultivated – hence, a cultivar.


Jack of Oracle Tutoring by Jack and Diane, Campbell River, BC.

Lifestyle: when to harvest apples

Lifestyle is continuous self-tutoring – for me, anyway. The tutor comments about when he chooses to pick apples from the tree.

When my first son was born, we planted him an apple tree. Without having to compete for sunlight, or space, it’s prospered over fifteen years. Today it’s heavily laden with apples, which I’m about to pick.

When to harvest the apples is often a question. I’ve read it’s best to wait until a few fall off, but for me that’s only one of three cues:

  1. A few apples fall off by themselves.
  2. Picking one, it tastes sweet.
  3. The first fall storm has come.

Our first fall storm was yesterday, of course: for me, therefore, the time has come to harvest the apples. I’m not recommending these guidelines, but they’re how I decide.


Jack of Oracle Tutoring by Jack and Diane, Campbell River, BC.

Lifestyle: watering the lawn: best time and way

I’ve recently taken self-tutoring about lawn watering. The tutor shares some discoveries.

On the west coast, summer is often very dry. Typically, if the lawn isn’t watered, it will go brown.

Where I live, we have watering restrictions. On the days I’m allowed to water, it’s either 5-9am or 7-10pm. I looked up when is better. Condensed, here are the hints I found about watering the lawn:

  1. Water in the morning before the heat of the day.
  2. Use a pulsating sprinkler: the water spends less time in the air → less loss to evaporation. However, for new grass,
    use oscillating sprinkler → gentler on the budding seeds.
  3. Water to soak 6 inches (15cm) deep.
  4. Water no more than twice per week.

I don’t water every part of the lawn every time; sometimes I only water the weaker patches, maybe for twenty minutes each.


Jack of Oracle Tutoring by Jack and Diane, Campbell River, BC.

Oak trees: do red oaks produce acorns every year?

The tutor shares the answer to a question he’s long harboured.

Generally, red oak acorns take two years to mature. Does that mean the tree drops a crop of acorns only every second year?

According to Cathy Blumig of, red oaks flower every year. Therefore, they certainly can produce acorns every year: this fall’s acorns will be from the flowers of sixteen months ago, rather than from the recent spring. Next year’s acorns, in turn, will be from this spring’s flowers.

While the quantity of acorns from a red oak may vary from year to year, the tree can definitely produce them every year.

Jack of Oracle Tutoring by Jack and Diane, Campbell River, BC.

Botany: black walnut: juglone

The tutor researches the effects of juglone from black walnut trees.

Juglone is a toxin produced by the black walnut tree; it’s found throughout the tree and in its leaves, shells and nuts.

Apparently, to humans eating the walnuts, the juglone is not a problem. However, it enters the soil from the roots of the black walnut tree, as well as from its leaves, twigs, and even pollen falling to the ground – not to mention the nuts and their shells. Some plants, such as tomatoes, potatoes, lilacs, and rhododendrons, can be damaged by the juglone.

To be safe, composted matter from black walnut should wait a year or more before application.

Horses are particularly sensitive to juglone; neither black walnut shavings, nor the husk fibre, etc, should be used in a horse’s environment.


Jack of Oracle Tutoring by Jack and Diane, Campbell River, BC.

Yard work: wood bugs

The tutor brings up a species (two, actually) that are common here.

In BC, “wood bug” refers to either of two animals: the sow bug or else the pill bug. They are very similar, so here, they share the handle “wood bug”. However, the sow bug has two “tail appendages” – the pill bug doesn’t. Compared to the sow bug, the pill bug is rounder in shape, so able to roll into a tight ball for defensive purposes. I’d say that, around here, both are very common.

Interestingly, sow bugs and pill bugs are crustaceans: they are more similar to crayfish, crabs, or lobsters than to insects. They have seven pairs of legs. They eat, primarily, decaying plant material.

Being crustaceans, sow bugs and pill bugs need moisture. Therefore, they are found in damp, dark places, and are apparently more active at night. Conveniently, the same conditions that maintain moisture also promote decay.

Even points out that sow bugs and pill bugs are helpful to the environment because they recycle nutrients – in some cases, even more beneficially than earthworms. University of Kentucky says that they are an eyesore, but really not a problem. Their presence indoors is symptomatic of a problem – wet conditions that foster decay.

I certainly don’t see wood bugs, as both sow bugs and pill bugs are called around here, as pests. They are benign recyclers of the tree material constantly raining down on us from the Douglas firs and others. Out in the yard so much lately, I’m noticing them when I move things, etc. Of course, this summer’s been quite damp: we’ve had rain most weeks.



Botany: can creeping buttercup flowers be orange?

The tutor discusses a find yesterday that has him guessing.

Yesterday, clearing foliage from between some paving stones, I noticed an orange flower. In fact, it was going to seed: the petals had collapsed, but still clung to the pistil. There seemed to be five, and they were orange. This plant was among a colony of creeping buttercup, and seemed to be that, as well. (Interestingly, none of the rest of the colony is flowering, so there were no other blooms for comparison.)

The question: can creeping buttercup flowers be orange? I seem to recall they can be, but wanting confirmation, I searched the internet. Two sites suggest that creeping buttercup flowers can be orange: and

I’ll be talking more about yard finds in future posts:)

Jack of Oracle Tutoring by Jack and Diane, Campbell River, BC.

Bird watching: when a hummingbird lands on a fence

The tutor shares an observation from yesterday.

Yesterday’s high was 24, but the humidex reached 28. Around here, that’s hot.

Working on the roof of a shed, I noticed, from the corner of my eye, about twenty feet away, something flying slowly back and forth. I was busy clearing the gutters, so didn’t look at first. The motion was persistent, so eventually I did.

The flyer was a hummingbird – quite a large one, I’d say: it was about a third the size of a sparrow. The hummingbirds I remember seeing in the past were typically not much bigger than a big bee.

This hummingbird would fly near a feeder, then return to a 2″x4″ board (part of a fence), where it would land. I’ve never seen a hummingbird land on a man-made structure, nor on a flat place. The ones I’ve observed in the past would always perch in a tree between flights.

I wondered if, the fence being in the shade, the hummingbird was seeking refuge from the sun on such a hot day.

I’ll be sharing more summertime observations:)


environment Canada

Jack of Oracle Tutoring by Jack and Diane, Campbell River, BC.

Lifestyle: when apples fall from the tree….

The tutor reflects on a question perhaps more philosophical than practical.

I’ve been out in the yard a lot lately, doing chores of various kinds. Yesterday I noticed that a number of apples have fallen from the tree in the backyard. Often, one or two small ones might fall this early, but there is a surprising number, some of surprisingly large size, lying on the ground.

I picked one up, expecting it to be sour – not so. While not fully sweetened, it was definitely edible. I tried two more in the course of the yard duties: one was sweet, while one was tart, but even the tart one was edible.

(Normally, the sugars aren’t this far along a month from now. The reason I’m not sure of, but I’ll research it for another post.)

Anyway, I began to wonder: Should I start picking the apples very soon, since they might just continue falling off? Else, should I wait a few more weeks at least (I usually pick them late Sept to early Oct), to let them ripen?

For now, I’m waiting, even though I know that if picked now, they will ripen in the bin. It just seems too early.

Sometimes, in life, circumstances suddenly point to “the right time” to take a certain action. However, the would-be actor isn’t ready. Often you hear people say the path to success is to take opportunities when they come, ready or not. Generally, I’m more conservative – maybe that’s why I’m not more successful.

In the great Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, Brutus argues they should march to Philippi, with the following reasoning:

There is a tide in the affairs of men
Which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune;
Omitted, all the voyage of their life
Is bound in shallows and in miseries.

Brutus, of course, has already been rushed to act by Cassius in the killing of Caesar; hence, his situation is desperate. Now, he is rushing again. (Ironically, Cassius wants to wait.) Brutus prevails, so they march to Philippi. With all due respect to Brutus, how does it turn out?


Shakespeare, William. The Complete Works of William Shakespeare.
  Hertfordshire: Wordsworth Editions Limited, 1996.

Jack of Oracle Tutoring by Jack and Diane, Campbell River, BC.