Going to Seed

by Sandy Swegel

After weeks of rainy days, we were rewarded with a week of hot sun. This is great news for the tomatoes, but it means all those cool season veggies started to bolt. When summer temperatures warm up, all the cilantro and spinach and lettuce put out lovely seed heads. That’s a sign there won’t be many more leafy greens growing but all the plants’ efforts will go into reproduction and making seeds.

Seed making in the leafy greens means the leaves are going to turn bitter. And once bitter, you never get the sweetness back on those spinaches and lettuces. You’ll have to yank the plants out and re-seed.

For us, that means big salads for dinner every night this week.

We took out our harvesting knives and cut the lettuces and spinach to the ground. Lots of cilantro was done also…so an armload of cilantro greens will go into awesome pesto this week. Dozens of flat edible pea pods were plucked for salad and stir-fry. As the evening cooled, we sat around the outdoor table and watched the tomato plants put out more yellow flowers.

Tomato season is now on the way.

Life is good.

Photo credit: http://www.gardeningknowhow.com/edible/herbs/cilantro/cilantro-bolting.htm

Pill Bugs, Sow Bugs, Roly Polys, Doodle Bugs

by Sandy Swegel

Kids love roly polys. There is no end to the fun of having these cute little non-biting bugs roll up in their hands. So cute.

Teachers love roly polys too. It’s a great teaching opportunity for a critter that is everywhere and the kids can open the rolled-up bug and count legs. Teachers can build terrariums. Amazon sells roly poly playgrounds! It’s a great entertaining moment when the kids learn the roly polys eat their own poop. “Ewww” or “Cool” depending on the kid.


Gardeners aren’t so impressed. In a year with a lot of spring rain, as much of the U.S. just had, pill bugs are the bane of our existence. In one night, a whole row of young beans can be toppled. Lettuce seedlings are so riddled with holes there’s no hope of a crop.

This is not a time to be entertained by stories that roly polys are related to crawfish. The gardener needs to watch out for pillbug infestations and act quickly if you want to save your veggies.

While there are poisons to use, it’s fairly simple to discourage the little beasties.

One, Keep the top of the soil dry.

Two, Remove all the leaf litter or mulch.

If you still have a lot of pill bugs, there are two more advanced techniques:

Trap them with Beer (little containers of beer buried to soil level).

Vacuum them up. One friend with a really infested garden went out each night after dark with her shop vac and sucked up hundreds of them one wet spring. After a week or so the numbers were down although the neighbors were puzzled.

Good luck with the garden this year. All the extra spring rains inspired population explosions of critters.



Photo credits:



The Honey Bee Colony

It’s the stuff of Hollywood movies and spine-chilling stories — a swarm of bees attacking everything in their path. Mad, ruthless, and vicious buzzing creatures covering whatever strikes their fancy (usually a person) until they succumb to the deadly stings! This is how a swarm of bees behaves, right?
Well, not exactly.

First of all, let’s discuss what a honey bee swarm is and exactly why they’re swarming. A swarm is an entire colony of bees looking for a place to start up housekeeping. It includes a queen and up to 30,000 of her pals, the worker bees and drones. They do this without any anger, aggression, nor any plans to sting people.

Usually, a young queen is born into a honey bee colony and she takes the place of the old queen (no one said life as a queen was easy). The old queen sees the writing on the wall and starts packing for greener pastures. Don’t worry, she has some loyal subjects — she ends up taking about half of that colony with her to hang around a new castle.

The entourage is led by the queen bee and her pheromones — which has them following her beyond all reason. When the queen finds a comfy bush or tree branch, the swarm will settle there, as well. Ultimately what they’re looking for is an unoccupied cavity in which to call home. This is the time when a savvy beekeeper will place a beehive below the swarm to attract them. If the colony approves (and by “the colony”, I mean the Queen) then someone just got themselves a brand new hive, pollination team, and honey processing plant!

Let’s back up a bit. There’s a thick, black, buzzing cloud going through your yard and you’re supposed to believe that these guys don’t have your name at the top of their tiny, bee hit-list, right? That’s exactly right. And the reason that they don’t have stinging on their mind is that honey bees typically defend two things: their young (in the hive) and their honey (also in the hive).

They tend to get irked when you mess with these things — as well they should. In the honeybee’s defense, if you’re going to go into a hive and take either of those things, well…that actually makes you the aggressor.

That said, personally, I wouldn’t grab a broom and start flailing it around trying to swat at the swarm. I mean that probably falls under the definition of provocation, am I right?

If you find that a swarm of honeybees has landed at your home, garage, or porch and you not only don’t believe a word I’ve written here, but are getting ready to sue me because these bees are certainly going to kill you in your sleep…all I ask is that instead of taking matters into your own hands, please contact a local beekeeper to have them gently removed. Honey bees are one of our most valuable pollinators and they’re having a terrible time staying in existence.

Trivial Note: I’m not a honey beekeeper. Although, I am a Western Blue Mason Beekeeper, which isn’t of any importance to this article at all. I only mention it for the record.

Bats are beautiful and essential


There are so many misconceptions out there about bats. Bats are not evil, blood-thirsty creatures that fly around at night trying to get caught in your hair. They are graceful and fascinating nocturnal creatures, which benefit humans by pollinating plants, dispersing seeds, and feeding on insect pests. In fact, over 300 species of fruit depend on bats for pollination including mangoes, bananas and guavas, carob, peaches and balsa wood. They are excellent pest managers eating up to 1,200 mosquitoes in one hour and in the wild they can live for up to 20 years.

Worldwide, at least 67 plant families and over 500 species of flowers rely on bats as their major or exclusive pollinators. Bats certainly play an important role in keeping the insect populations in check by eating insects. They consume damaging pests that attack a host of commercial crops. Nectar-feeding bats are also essential pollinators. Bats are often considered “keystone species” that are essential to some tropical and desert ecosystems. Without bats’ pollination and seed-dispersing services, local ecosystems could gradually collapse as plants fail to provide food and cover for wildlife species near the base of the food chain.

Bats are able to pollinate the flowers of plants that have evolved to produce nectar to attract them. When they drink the sweet nectar inside flowers they pick up a dusting of pollen and move it along to other flowers as they feed. Scientists believe that many groups of plants have evolved to attract bats since they are able to carry such large amounts of pollen in their fur compared to other pollinators. The ability of bats to fly long distances is also another benefit to plants, especially those plants that occur in low densities or in areas far apart from each other.

Flowering plants have developed several traits to attract these flying mammals. Bats use sight, smell and echolocation to locate flowers. Many of the flowers that rely on bats for pollination are white or light-colored to show up in the evening and night times. Many of the flowering plants have evolved a strong fruity or musty or rotten perfume. The smell is created by sulfur-containing compounds, which are uncommon in most floral aromas but have been found in the flowers of many plant species that specialize in bat pollination. Some plant species have even evolved acoustic features in their flowers that make the echo of the bat’s ultrasonic call more conspicuous to their bat pollinators enabling them to easily find the flowers in dense growth.
Other interesting stuff!

-Tequila is made from the agave plant, which relies solely on bats to pollinate its flowers and reproduce. Without bats, we would have no tequila.

-Anoura fistulata, a nectar-feeding bat from South America, which has the longest tongue (proportionally) of all mammals. A. fistulata is only the size of a mouse, but its tongue is around 8.5 centimeters long, making it up to 150% of its body length! With such a long tongue it couldn’t possibly keep all of it in its mouth. Instead, A. fistulata keeps the tongue in its chest, in a cavity between the heart and sternum.

-Bats almost exclusively pollinate wild bananas, which originate from Southeast Asia. Bats pollinate many ecologically and economically important plants from around the world. The products that we value from these plants are more than just fruits, including fibers and timbers that we use every day.
-Flying foxes, nectar and fruit-eating megabats from Australia, pollinate the dry eucalyptus forests, which provide us with timber and oils that are shipped around the world.

-Many tropical and sub-tropical rainforest ecosystems also rely on bat pollinators to regenerate. Without nectar-feeding bats not only would our environment suffer, but our way of living as well! Bats are so effective at dispersing seeds into ravaged forest lands that they’ve been called the “farmers of the tropics.” Seeds dropped by bats can account for up to 95 percent of the first new growth.

Bats can be found in almost every part of the world except in extremely hot and cold climates. They live on all continents except Antarctica. You can find more species of bats where the weather is nice and warm. Bats like to roost in groups in dark and humid environments. They also roost in different structures, such as the underside of bridges, in caves, inside roves of buildings, in cracks in between rocks, in mines, and in tree hollows.

Unfortunately, because of human misunderstanding, as well as practices such as habitat destruction and indiscriminate use of pesticides, many bat species are endangered, and some have already gone extinct. In the United States, nearly 40% of the native bat species are endangered.

Click on the links below for more great info!

Info on how to safely & humanely remove a bat from your home:
Build your own Bat House!
Bring a Bat program into your School:
Bat Coloring Pages:

Learn to Recognize Local Beneficial Insects


By now you’ve been made very aware of the importance of beneficial insects in the garden — both pollinators and predators. You’ve been instructed to encourage the good guys into your garden and celebrate their appearance.  All of which is good and correct.

Except…how can you be sure that the less-than-cuddly-looking-four-legged creatures walking amongst your blossoms are the right ones? After all, heroes aren’t necessarily handsome (although we always assume that they must be). No, your knights-in-shining-armor may have a face only a mother could love — or a gardener.

You might be surprised at how many good guys you don’t recognize. For instance, most people are very familiar with ladybugs and recognize them as part of the cavalry. The Volkswagen-shaped beetles will consume about 50 aphids a day, munching on plant mites and scales while they’re at it.

Yet I wonder how many ladybug children are killed simply because they don’t have Brad Pitt good-looks. If you didn’t shudder when I mentioned the little darlings, then you probably haven’t met them. If you can picture a cross between an alligator and a lobster wearing black and orange/red leather biker pants — only creepier — then you’re on the right track. As far as looks go, ladybug larvae have nothing in common their charming parents. Another example of a less-than-lovely beneficial insect is the Damsel Bug. As the old saying goes; she’s plainer than a mud fence.

So, you can see how important insect recognition can be if only so you don’t squash the very critters that are there to save the day! The best place to start is by learning about the insects local to your area. I like having a bug identification page called Mac’s Field Guide and they’re available for different regions. This large, laminated card has good garden bugs on one side and bad ones on the flip side. The one I have for California has images of the kids next to the adults, too. It also tells you where to look for both good and bad bugs and which plant whets their appetites.

If a particular insect really piques your interest, catch it in a jar. Bring it down to your local nursery or your local Cooperative Extension Office (Master Gardeners)for proper identification. You were probably going down there to see what new vegetable starts they brought in this week anyway.


Ladybug facts:

There are over 300 types of Ladybugs just in North America

Ladybugs come in many colors besides red: like pink, yellow, white, orange and black.  See more at: http://www.ladybuglady.com/ladybugweb9.htm#sthash.QnKjNGBh.dpuf

The hard shell covering the adult ladybug protects the fragile wings and is called the elytra. It is so thin you can see through it and is used to make the ladybug look dangerous to predators. They actually secrete a foul tasting, orange fluid from the joints in their legs. Ladybugs will even play dead if threatened.



Our Native Bees

by Sandy Swegel


Ever feel like you’re doing all the work and everybody else is getting all the credit?  That was the great scenario I watched unfold yesterday.  It was a warm sunny day and there were hundreds of honey bees buzzing loudly in a hot pink crab apple tree.  Such a sight and sound is a crowning point of Spring and gives us hope for honeybees.  But I was working in the rock garden nearby pulling weeds out of a mini-hedge of yellow Basket of Gold. (Aurinia saxatilis)  While everybody else was watching the crab apple full of honey bees, there was one solitary native bee happily feeding and pollinating an entire row of bright yellow alyssum growing over the rocks.  This native bee wasn’t getting all the glory but he was a Rock Star.

Native bees are often much smaller than honey bees. They don’t make honey for us.  They have evolved alongside native plants so they prefer to feed on native plants rather than human-made hybrids.  The native bee I watched wasn’t a hive builder but makes a solitary nest just for itself in the dirt or somewhere in a little hole in an old dead tree.


You can encourage native bees to live in your garden by planting native plants and by building little nests the native bee likes.  You can make a small practical native bee nest out of a box and hollow tubes, or you can go all out and make some garden art as we see in these pictures.

Or just honor the native bee by noticing it.  Next time you’re in the garden, look for the little bee that’s at least half the size of all the other bees you see.  That’s one of our unsung pollinator heroes.

How to Build your Own Native Bee Nest:

Photo Credits



The Native Bumble

The Native Bumble

by Summer Sugg

It’s a bird! It’s a plane! It’s—it’s…a bumblebee? This seems to be more than fitting, seeing as this pollinator’s genus name, Bombus, literally means “booming”, or “buzzing” in Latin. Anyone who’s had a garden in Colorado, or hiked in its wildflower filled landscapes can testify to the astounding amount of noise a bumblebee can make while zooming past your head. It definitely caught me off guard when I got the amazing opportunity to work with the bumblebees in the field with two biology professors at CU (Diana Oliveras and Carol Kearns) during the summer months as research.

I’m sure many of you know what a bumblebee looks like, but what I never knew before my research experience was that there are more colors than just black and yellow to a particular species of bumblebee. The abdominal segments (6 on a female, 7 on male) are where the color is located and can contain orange, white, rufous red, and even brown pile (fur) with the yellow and black depending on the species.

Female bumblebees are very interesting, especially the long life of the queen (one year or longer) who first mates, then overwinter to emerge in the spring with a mission to gather and find a good place for a hive to lay her eggs. The workers are also female, have stingers that can sting something as many times as it wants without dying, and are much smaller than the queen (except for when the new queen is chosen and leaves the hive with the males). Male bumblebees are also interesting, and some people who are good at identifying the males can scoop them up with their bare hands to examine them. The males have no stingers or corbiculae (female’s shiny area of the back legs’ femur surrounded by stiff hairs to carry pollen) and sometimes loiter on flowers or branches with their large humorous bug eyes.

Female (left) vs. Male (right)—different species, but you can see the characteristics. (http://bugguide.net)

Another interesting fact is how bumblebees are native to North America with 23 species found in Colorado alone, while honeybees are of European origin and are only a single species. The experience of working with them and this new knowledge also gave me more appreciation towards our native pollinators, especially bumblebees who are the primary players in helping to pollinate some of Colorado’s (and other state’s) native wildflowers, such as the shooting star anthers (as pictured below). This is due to their large size, enabling them to literally buzz out the pollen, which other non-native pollinators cannot do.



Book: “The Natural History of Bumblebees—A sourcebook for Investigations” by Carol A. Kearns and James D. Thompson

Websites: http://www.colostate.edu/Dept/bspm/extension%20and%20outreach/Bumble%20Bees.pdf http://beetlesinthebush.wordpress.com/2010/07/


Ancient Wisdom from Women who Grew Vegetables

by Sandy Swegel 

I learned the story this week of Buffalo Bird Woman, a Hidatsa Indian born around 1839 in the Dakotas. She and the women of her tribe were the ones who did all the farming from breaking hard ground to heavy harvesting and transporting. Toward the end of her life, she gave interviews about how her people had farmed sunflowers and corn and beans, and how they preserved and even seasoned them. It was the work of women. Her stories always start with phrases like, “My two mothers and my sister and I went out to the field…” or “My grandmother Turtle would break the hard new ground with a stick.”

But Buffalo Bird Woman was also a scientist in her approach and gives detailed information about creating soil fertility (and softening the ground), about the timing and order of planting. Unlike the stories we hear of other tribes planting beans and corn and squash into single holes, the Hidatsas had an elaborate system that included sunflowers. They also planted in rows and pre-sprouted their corn and had a strict timing system.

Here was how you knew when to plant corn:
“We knew when corn planting time came by observing the leaves of the wild gooseberry bushes. This bush is the first of the woods to leaf in the spring. Old women of the village were going to the woods daily to gather firewood; and when they saw that the wild gooseberry bushes were almost in full leaf, they said, “It is time for you to begin planting corn!”

I think you’ll find it delightful to meet Buffalo Bird Woman. There is a children’s book based on her childhood called Buffalo Bird Girl.

There are even recipes for good warrior food like sunflower-seed balls.

Buffalo Bird Woman’s story of the practice of agriculture among her people is available free online at the Upenn digital library: http://digital.library.upenn.edu/women/buffalo/garden/garden.html

An interview with her was also included in the PBS series, The Sky Above Us.” http://www.pbs.org/weta/thewest/program/episodes/eight/tospeak.htm
At the end of her life, the practices of her people modernized into Western ways, she bragged:

I think our old way of raising corn is better than the new way taught us by white men. Last year, our agent held an agricultural fair… and we Indians competed for prizes for the best corn. The corn which I sent to the fair took the first prize… I cultivated the corn exactly as in the old times, with a hoe.
Buffalo Bird Woman


The One Best Way to know when fungus is attacking your rose garden

by Sandy Swegel

We’ve had crazy amounts of rain this season and a sad consequence of this is plants are plagued with leaf diseases of every sort. Organic treatment of black spot and rust and powdery mildew usually starts with useless notes like air the plant out, provide adequate drainage, pick off diseased leaves. Daily rain means there is no extra air, there’s nowhere for the water to go, and if we picked off all the diseased leaves there’d be no leaves left to support the plant.

The One Big Secret to knowing if a fungus is about to move in on your plant? Look on the bottom side of the leaves. This works as well for pumpkins and squash as for roses.


Catching the Fungus in action was the most important part of keeping your plants healthy.

Now you have to Treat it Regularly.

There is no reversing fungus when it hits your plant…there’s just stopping it from spreading. If you know you have plants likely to get diseased, like roses in the rain, or squash plants in hot stressed conditions, walk by the plants from time to time and look at the underside of the leaves.


At our monthly Rose Society Meeting with collectively at least 200 years of rose growing experience, we did come up with things we think you can do to keep roses and other plants health during a high fungus year.

Number One was to feed your soil.

Everyone agreed that good soil with lots of nutrients and microbes made for plants that didn’t catch every fungus and disease floating in the air.

Number Two was pay attention and respond quickly. Nip it in the bud so to speak.
Watch the underside of the leaves. As soon as there is the sign of disease start treatment.

Some people use foliar sprays like baking soda or potassium salts. Others used buttermilk. (both of those treatments change pH.) Some are big on compost tea. Liquid kelp in a spray bottle is my go-to for most things.

The trick with sprays is to pull off the entirely diseased leaves and then start spraying on the underside of leaves, then on the top. The second secret for sprays is to repeat them every week. One time isn’t going to do it.

That’s it. The short version of our collective wisdom when it comes to a rainy season full of disease:
Have a potluck so everyone can commiserate with each other about their little natural disasters. Then get out there and make sure your soil is good and you stay vigilant.

Photo Credit: http://www.cnbhomes.com/rose-garden-pictures/best-beautiful-rose-garden/

Flowers to set the mood

by Sandy Swegel

One of my favorite jobs each year is designing twenty-two flower pots for an urban condo. The homeowners are real garden lovers but they live in the middle of the city on a high floor. Rather than be content to just look at the amazing mountain vistas their elevation provides, they decided to bring flowers to them in profusely planted pots.

The fun for me is not just designing the interesting combinations of flowers and foliage, but also using the flowers to set the mood for each tiny “room” on the deck.

Here are some of the moods I’ve asked the flowers to set this year.

Sweet, soft gentle awakening.
I love vivid designs, but sometimes one needs to move slowly into the day. So the flowers outside the bedroom window are pretty and not too stirring. Salmon geraniums with spilling blue lobelia. A small white pot with water plants like papyrus. A gentle mood set for early morning.

Late Afternoon Jolt of Wow
The east side of the deck has afternoon shade and really comfy chairs, so it’s a grand spot for guests and afternoon cocktails. Planters here are full of what I call the diva plants: giant purples and oranges. Weird grasses or showy reds. This year a feathery purple Japanese Maple surrounded by orange tropical kangaroo paw and goldfish plant and any other odd orange flowery thing I could find provide the centerpiece. Last year a hot red castor bean plant and lime green foliage and fuchsia colored flowers did the trick. Pots on the perimeter are full of giant petunias and cascading sweet potato vines. Diva flowers always look even more amazing after a few margaritas.

Dinner time
After cocktails, people shift to the grill area. Plants are sturdy here on a west deck. A couple of potted evergreens to balance the big grill and table. Orange hibiscus that is bright and colorful but doesn’t mind being jostled or heated by the grill. Multi-colored coleus to create the illusion of color and texture in the setting shade. An herb pot in case the grills needs some extra rosemary sprigs.
Fading light
After the sun sets, people move indoors and even though there are soft solar lights coming on near a fountain, the flowers fade in the coming night. Exceptions are the white alyssum and silver foliage spread throughout pots that glow under moonlight or the orange osteospermum with the purple fluorescent centers that hold the light a little longer.

Flowers are such powerful influences in our lives. We choose what we grow for many reasons.