The first 21 days of a bee’s life.

by Sandy Swegel

You have to watch this Ted Talk. It’s a time-lapse video of the first 21 days of a bee’s life and how bee babies turn into what looks like slime into a bee.

I think promoting bees is the real key to reversing the dumping of pesticides in our environment. It’s just not compelling to try to say we should use fewer chemicals in our lawns and trees. But it does persuade people when they understand how many bees are being killed. In our area, there are noticeably fewer bees this Spring. Even non-gardeners are starting to notice.

I had a different opportunity this week to talk about protecting bees. We have a big problem in Colorado in that the Emerald Ash Borer that destroys ash trees finally reached us. The problem is the systemic treatment that people hope will save the ash tree. Our scientists think the only ash trees that will survive will be ash trees that are treated with the systemics that are toxic to bees and other pollinators and beneficial insects. The trees will be treated every year for years and years.   So we might save the ash trees at the cost of flooding our environment annually with the chemicals that kill bees and beneficial insects. This is the dilemma when we face when we use chemicals to save one part of the environment…we then damage other parts of the environment.

For most people, this is a boring argument. That’s why I like things like videos of developing baby bees. It makes the story more real.   The more we understand the importance of bees and pollinators, and the more we think they are cute and valuable, then the better chance we have for stopping the systematic pouring of toxic chemicals into our yards and parks.

The Wisdom of Bees

by Sandy Swegel

“The bee collects honey from flowers in such a way as to do the least damage or destruction to them, and he leaves them whole, undamaged and fresh, just as he found them.” — St Francis de Sales, 16th c.

I spent a restful weekend in a monastery in Northern Colorado and came to understand much about the wisdom of bees. Mystics and poets have been observing bees for centuries and gathering wisdom for us to practice. Imagine what our world would be like if for the last five centuries we had followed St. Francis de Sales attitude toward nature.



In the 20th c John Muir would elaborate on the sustainability of bees:
“Handle a book as a bee does a flower, extract its sweetness but do not damage it.”
— John Muir

Another mystic, writing a thousand years early earlier in the 4th century, wrote:

“The bee is more honoured than other animals,
not because she labors,
but because she labours for others.”

— St John Chrysostom, Constantinople

Many have known that keeping bees is a task of the higher heavenly realms. As Henry David Thoreau mused in the 19th c.
“The keeping of bees is like the direction of sunbeams.”

And finally, the wisdom of bees to teach us that the toil of our everyday work can turn to joy.
From Dante’s Paradiso:
“Like bees that in a single motion swarm and dip into the flowers, then return, to Heaven’s hive where their toil turns to joy.”

The wise monk on my weekend wrote: “Love, motion, joy, renewal, gentleness, light, perfection; these are a few of the attributes of bees.”

No wonder we love them.

Photo credit:

Design a Party Garden


by Sandy Swegel

Nope, a party garden isn’t a garden in which to have a party. This is a garden to make sure your parties are more fun and flavorful. It has been raining in Boulder for two solid weeks. We, fair-weather gardeners, don’t like to garden in the drizzle and cold, so the only gardening things to do has been to read garden books like an old favorite of mine, Amy Stewart’s The Drunken Botanist about “the plants that create the world’s great drinks.”

This started me thinking about what should I grow in a garden near the deck so that when we are making summer cocktails, I can just nonchalantly walk over the garden to pick a sprig or two.

There are the obvious Herbs:

Mint…for juleps and mojitos
lemon balm and lemon verbena for fruity drinks and rums.

For vodkas and gins, you can try some of the more pungent herbs
Rosemary (mix with grapefruit and honey for a “fizz”)
Lavender (also lovely in champagne)
and Vegetables:
cucumbers…Pimm’s cup and all kinds of coolers
cherry tomatoes for finger food

and Fruit
Strawberries: for cocktails and finger food
Lime or lemon in containers
Berries: from juniper to raspberries

and Flowers:
Violas, pansies, nasturtiums.

My favorite party idea came from a 2011 Martha Stewart magazine: floral ice cubes:

Use distilled water to keep the ice clear:
To suspend flowers in the cubes, work in layers: Fill an ice tray (one that makes large cubes so the ice will last longer) a quarter of the way with water, add flowers facing down, and freeze. Add more water to fill halfway, and freeze. Fill to the top, and freeze again.
Summer afternoons are on the way!
Photo credit

A Bug Superhero

by Sandy Swegel

This week I learned from one of our readers (Thanks Teresa) about a “beneficial” bug I didn’t know about before. I thought these armored looking true bugs I saw were all villainous stinky bugs, but in fact, there is a look-alike bug, the “Spined soldier bug,” that is a true bug superhero to vegetable gardeners. The spined soldier bug eats the young of two of the most damaging villains in our gardens: the Mexican bean beetle and the Colorado potato beetle. It also eats the eggs of its look-a-like Brown marmorated stink bug. If you are an organic gardener who picks off bad bugs to drop them in a bucket of soapy water or just squashes them, you need to learn how to tell the difference between the Spined Soldier Bug and its apparent evil twin the Brown marmorated stink bug. One protects your vegetables and the other eats them. It’s a true fairy tale of good and evil (at least from the vegetable’s point of view.)

It’s not very obvious how to tell the two bugs apart, but the biggest clue is the sharp spiny shoulders of the Spined soldier bug…sort of like it’s little superhero cape. Check out the photo for differences in markings on the abdomen. There’s also anecdotal evidence that the spined soldier bug is more likely to be alone and not to run away frightened by you. He is a superhero after all. Some say the Brown marmorated stink bugs are quicker to scurry away and hide.


Anytime we decide to kill one kind of creature in our garden, we risk doing more damage than good through our altruistic ignorance. We mean well if we go around killing stink bugs, but we need to really know what we are doing or we’ll accidentally kill the best bug allies we have. My rule for pulling weeds is always, “Don’t pull anything unless you know its name.” My rule for killing bugs is now the same, “Don’t kill anything unless you know its name for sure!” No guessing.




Photo Credits

Five Perennial vegetables you only have to plant once.

by Sandy Swegel

Two of my personal goals this year are Less Labor and Eat More Vegetables. Perennial vegetables are a great way to meet both these goals. Plant them once and year after year you can just meander out to the yard to harvesting whenever you are hungry.

Here are my must-have five Perennial Vegetables. They do best if you put them off somewhere in their own patch where they can spread. They also do well planted in a perennial flower garden where they are beautiful plants in their own right.

Asparagus. You know this one. Every Spring I wish I had planted more asparagus years ago. I could happily sit on the ground and just snap off all the tender growing tops and eat them raw. Asparagus is a gotta-have perennial vegetable.

Artichoke. Artichokes are such a winner. They are delicious and, if you let a few go to seed, they are beautiful. There are on the edge of perennial here in Zone 5 but a neighbor of mine throws a bag of leaves on hers in the Fall and they keep coming back.

Rhubarb. This is a standard in old-fashioned gardens. It’s very helpful if you also plant some strawberries so you can always have pie!


There are so many perennial greens: Some of my favorites that are best in the coolers seasons of Spring and Fall are:
Arugula: These I cut to the ground in Fall and they come up on their own fresh and tender in Spring.
Sorrel: Put it in an out-of-the-way spot where it gets good moisture. Some shade is OK. Sorrel is pretty lemony, so not for everyone but it’s a lively addition to salads and soups. The red sorrels are great foliage in the flower garden.
Nettle: What? Touch those stinging plants? Young nettle leaves carefully picked with gloves on, are incredible in so many dishes. My current favorite is a Nettle Pesto served over angel hair pasta. Yum.
Almost-perennial greens include kales and chards that will keep coming back if you give them just a bit of protection in Zone 5.

Sunchokes, or Jerusalem artichokes. A perennial patch of sunchokes means you are never out of a potato substitute for dinner. You can harvest them all year round. If you are watching your carbs, sunchokes give you a vegetable with a substance that has a low glycemic index. Good for you if you have to watch your blood sugar. Sunchokes also grow into beautiful sunflowers! Food and flowers.
Want to know what perennial vegetables will do well no matter where you live in the world: This is an awesome “Global Inventory” of perennial vegetables created by permaculturist Eric Toensmeier



Photo credit artichoke:

Photo credit sunchoke: