Sunday, June 13, 2010

Pollinators paradise…

If you recall a while back I talked about losing the hollies in the garden at the front porch and how I didn’t know what to do with that area.  I looked at all manner off shrubs, evergreens and the like.  I guess at first I was trying to keep it close to what it had been, but then the bee adventure began and I started to rethink my plan.
Asclepias incarnata L. Swamp milkweed
That bed has always had milkweeds in it, Asclepias incarnata L. (Swamp milkweed), Asclepias syriaca (Common milkweed) and Asclepias tuberosa (Butterfly weed).  In addition there is Buddleia davidii (Butterfly bush), Rudbeckia hirta (Black eyed Susan) and a couple of Echinacea varieties.  There are also some red and yellow lilies, a Sweet pepper bush, hellebores and lily of the valley.  With the hollies all cut back (they are not dead by any means and the one that Randy cut back has bushed out nicely) it opened up a lot of space for additional planting.  So since it is one of the few areas that gets abundant sunshine I decided to continue on the theme of a place for pollinators and add some plants that the bees would enjoy as well.
Off to the local nursery I went and I walked the isles of sun loving perennials looking for the bees.  It didn’t take long to find them and the plants that they preferred and once I did I got two of each to bring home!  The reward was instant as the bees arrived within moments of the plants arrival!
Veronica spicata 'Red Fox'
Scabiosa columbaria Pincushion flowers Salvia pratensis Royal Crimson Distinction
The additions I made were Veronica spicata (Long leaf Speedwell and Red Fox), Nepeta cataria (Catmint), and Salvia pratensis (Royal Crimson Distinction).  I also purchased two A. curassavica (Tropical milkweeds) and two Scabiosa columbaria (Pincushion flowers). I know from previous experience that the bees love Eupatorium purpureum (Joe-Pye Weed), Solidago canadensis (Golden rod) and Agastache foeniculum (Anise hyssop).  I had the best luck on my trip as they just happened to have some joe-pye weed, golden rod, butterfly weed and Salvia nemorosa (Meadow Sage Marcus) on the 50% off table!  I transplanted a Lobelia cardinalis (Cardinal Flower)  that was mixed in with some hosta and an Agastache from the old pond location to this area.  I got lucky again when my mom just happened to share some other varieties of Agastache with me from extras she’d ordered! I added a shepherds hook with a humming bird feeder and filled the glass ‘butterfly feeder’ with 'butterfly nectar’.

As you can see I still have some plants to plant!  It was 90 yesterday with high humidity and I worked out there until I thought I was going to melt.  I’ll have to get out there in the morning one day this week and get everything else in the ground.  Better to do it a little early when maybe the bees won’t be so busy!  In the end, cutting those hollies back turned out to be a great way for me to create a pollinators paradise!  Of course, it’s just one of the many additions I plan on adding from here on out!

Thursday, June 10, 2010

For the bees and other pollinators!

Butterflies are easy to love, they make people happy, they make you smile and admittedly they are beautiful!
Fritillary on marigold
There isn’t much not to love about them, they don’t sting or buzz around your head and as guests in the garden they are some of the most polite ones around.  Butterflies also have loads of written material, there are volumes of books, magazine articles and websites dedicated to attracting, feeding and housing these winged beauties.  I’ve planted many plants based on butterflies and luring them into my gardens and it has paid off in having a wide variety of these wonderful creatures around.
monarch on butterfly bush  swallowtail on cardinal flowe
 Eastern Tiger Swallowtail
What about the bees though?  What about those hardworking little pollinators that without, we would have fewer blooms, fewer fruits, fewer vegetables?  Where are the books written in favor of them?  Where are the websites dedicated to helping you plant flowers that will help to feed them or magazine articles telling you about the solitary ones that need a patch of dirt to make their home in?  Even when digging on the web looking for such information I can tell you it isn’t easy to find!
Bees are the silent hero’s of the gardeners world, without them our gardens would not be the same.  Bees are afterthoughts to a lot of people, or they are feared because they are believed to be aggressive.  Sadly lots of people mistake honeybees for yellow jackets (which are wasp) and kill them!  As gardeners that like to eat produce and stop to smell the flowers we need the bees, it is time they got a little more love, a little more respect and a lot more attention.  Take some time to watch the bees and be thankful for all they do for us!

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

I, rock….

The landscaping, or lack there of has been bothering me for a while now.  There were lots of ideas for how to landscape it, but implementing was the issue.  Decking, flower beds all were on the list.  I finally decided that I had to do something and so…DSC_0005
Using the rocks that we had, I started at the bottom and worked my way up.  I left some spaces a little open so that I can add sedums or other ground cover type plants to soften the rocks some.  I planted three blue rug junipers in and among the rocks, they will gradually spread as well.  I left an opening to allow access on the pond for skimming, feeding and what-not.  I’ll be doing the same on the to other side later today.

Friday, June 4, 2010


While waiting for the counters to be installed I’ve decided to share with you a project that is floating around in my head.
2010-29-5 (10)
This area runs along the side of my house.  For years it has been the dumping place for loads of leaves in the fall.  I planted daffodils there one year, they did ok till they were run over by the tractor repeatedly, most didn’t return after that.  So the space sits, empty, neglected and in need of something, but what?
2010-29-5 (13)
Under the pine I transplanted some hydrangea's from another location.  They are trying to grow, but the deer keep nipping them off. Also further off to the side, about where that sunny path is in the picture, are wild may apples, I love those and have to spray them to protect them from the deer.  I look at this area and my mind keeps flicking back to the way those lovely bright blooms of azaleas look in the spring.
I know you’ve seen the pictures, they are blooming en masse’ against a back drop of trees.  You imagine the soil is rich and fertile and can almost smell the coolness of the air where these lovely beauties are blooming.  That vision is what I see for this location and I want to accomplish this by recycling.  I want to move every single azalea that I have in my yard to this location.  Ok that part sounds pretty easy, but how does one keep the deer away from them?  I pondered on this until I came up with the idea of using Milorganite.  It is inexpensive, can be easily applied with a broadcast spreader and I know it works.  I used to use it a lot around the entire property, but I started just spraying specific plants instead. 
So maybe one day soon, I can implement my vision…

Trees & Bees!

So what was supposed to be routine tree trimming and removal, turned into a lesson in Apiculture!  See we had this 130’ tulip poplar that had started to look a little rough a few years ago.  Then last year it started to lean in the direction of the house. so much leaning in fact that the roots heaved from the ground some.  Well when I called our tree guy Will over at Oak Hill Tree Service saw the tree and said that it really needed to come down as it was taking aim at the house.  I agreed and scheduled the removal, much to my dismay.  Even though I live in the woods and I am surrounded by trees I hate losing any of them.
I’m always concerned about who is living in the trees and this one was no different as there was actually a hole in the tree.  I figured bird, squirrel maybe even an owl but I never really saw any activity going on around the hole, so I thought that it was empty.  Will and his crew began the process of taking the tree down, I couldn’t watch.  I did however go out every so often to check the progress and snap a picture.
I realized that the next section they took would have the hole in it and being curious I wanted to see it up close.  So I went back in and then came back out once it was down.  What I saw in that hole excited me and broke my heart at the same time…
It was an honest to goodness honey bee nest (they aren’t called hives when they are in the wild!) The girls were busy buzzing and trying to figure out why they house was now on it’s side.  I asked Will not to do anything more with that section of tree and rushed into the house to call for honey bee help.  I know enough about how these wonderful bees are dying off from Colony Collapse Disorder and have problems with mites to know that a wild colony is a super, super gift and that just letting them die would be criminal!  I went to the Howard County Bee Keepers and called every contact on the list till I got in touch with someone.  The man that I talked to contacted a lady and she and her husband came to save the bees.  They asked Will to cut the log in half so that they could access the inside of the nest.  He wasn’t keen on it, but it did it.
2010-4-6 (6)
They under estimated the size of the honeycombs and they actually got cut in half.  This picture shows one half.
2010-4-6 (7)
This is the other half of the honeycomb.  It wasn’t a huge nest, but they estimated it to be about 4 pounds of bees.  Janice said that she thought it was a relatively new nest because it was very clean and that they had most likely come from a bee keeper within a four mile area. Apparently the queen and her court don’t travel too far when they go off to create a new colony.
2010-4-6 (10)
Maurice set about cutting the honeycombs out of the tree very carefully as Janice fashioned frames to put them in.  They assured me that once they had the queen all the others would follow where she went. Janice also remarked many times how gentle and calm they were and said that was a direct reflection on the queen. I know that I stood among those bees in shorts and a t-shirt and never once felt like they were aggravated or anything, it was amazing!
2010-4-6 (16)
It took quite a while to get all the honeycombs out and attached to the frames. Janice brought a piece over to me to show me what a ‘capped’ piece looked like and what a larva that had not been capped yet looked like! Later she even gave me a small piece that contained nothing but pure honey.  She told me that I could chew the wax like gum and of course the honey itself was delicious!. Once they had finished collecting all the honeycombs, they sat the box next to the logs and waited to see if the bees would head for the box.  After just a few minutes they all started to line up and crawl into a small opening.  They had the queen and she was releasing her pheromone to let everyone know where she was. 
Janice and Maurice left the box here for a few hours and came back when it was near dusk and had to started to rain to collect it.  They had almost all the bees and they were taking them to their new home.  I have to admit that I was sad to see them go.  I checked last night and there were maybe 12 or 15 ‘girls’ left around the logs, I felt awful that they got left behind,  Randy reminded me that I had saved the colony and that if I hadn’t been here it could have ended differently.  I know all that, but still I hate that they lost their family and home.
I learned a lot more about honey bees and now I’m going to look into adding a hive or two to my gardening.  I want to do more to help these amazing little pollinators and what better way, than to give them a home!

Weather woes and spring cleaning

Greetings!  It is that time again when I begin to regale you with my tales of gardening, nature and outside happenings! Alas, we once agai...