Natural Weed and Pest Control

by Jessica of

Honey Bee on Dandylion

Weeds do have value to pollinators, as most produce blooms that carry highly nutritious contents for pollinators.  However, they can be overwhelming in their growing power, and we need ways to control them without poisoning the soil and the things that feed on them.  I would like to begin by saying I pull each and every weed that I do not want growing in specific places.  I never use chemicals, not even vinegar and salt.  I would like to urge you to do the same, but I am providing you with some choices that are nontoxic.

  1.  Boiling water.  Pouring boiling water over weeds cooks them, and kills them.  Water is only water, so it’s okay for it to get into the soil and groundwater.
  2. Spray straight White Vinegar on the leaves of weeds being careful not to go overboard.  Too much vinegar in the soil isn’t good for the pH of the soil so it will affect the balance of the existing underground ecosystem if it is applied excessively.
  3. Spray a mixture of salt and vinegar…and then maybe pull them, roast them, and eat them?  Just a joke.  The recipe is 1 cup of salt into 1 gallon of vinegar

Wasps, hornets, and yellow jackets are the other most popular topic of seasonal pests.  I don’t consider them much of a  pest because they eat other insects, which makes them a very important part of the food chain.  So, instead of finding ways to kill them, I find ways to coexist.  They do not like peppermint oil, lavender oil, or eucalyptus oil.  So, the best prevention is to spray a mixture of these oils with water around the areas you’d rather them not set up shop.  The recipe is as follows:  1 tsp of peppermint oil; 1/2 tsp lavender oil; 1/2 tsp eucalyptus oil into 2 cups of water.  Use a good spray bottle to apply this mixture anywhere you do not want them present.  I suggest daily application, and the smell is pleasant, at least I think so.

Bald Faced Hornet

Remember that every living thing has a purpose, so frugally controlling them is in our best interest! I hope you all are having a wonderful summer so far! Thank you for being part of this very important movement to save our bees!


Here are a couple of links to steps to control pests using non-chemical controls and least toxic methods, and a link to a great video from website.

Manage Safe

Organic Land Managment Practical Tools and Techniques


The Flowers and the Bees – Why Bees Matter

The Flowers and the Bees
Why Bees Matter

contributed by Sarah Woodard (of  PerfectBee)

About the Author:  Sarah Woodard has three years experience as a beekeeper, loves constantly learning from her bees and helping others discover beekeeping. See some of her other writing at


As flower lovers, you already know that bees are attracted to some flowers more than others and that the more bees in your garden, the more beautiful your flowers. Did you also know that bees are responsible for pollinating 90% of our food supply?

With the introduction of chemicals and mono-agriculture practices, honeybees are increasingly under threat. If we lose the bees, we lose a lot more than food, flowers, and hive products like honey and wax. We also lose the natural antibacterial properties of products produced in the hive and, more importantly, and essential connection with nature.


The Importance of Native Bees
Just as other animals and plants develop differently in different parts of the world, so too, do bees. You’re familiar with invasive plant species and the detrimental effects they have. A similar phenomenon happens with bees. Killer bees, also known as Africanized bees, are not native to the U.S., but were brought to South America as part of an attempt to increase honey production. Gradually, they worked their way north and currently occupy much of the southern U.S. states, altering the genetics of the bee populations in those areas.

Unlike honeybees native to the U.S., Africanized bees are aggressive and don’t handle cool temperatures well. Honeybees native to the U.S. are docile and adapted to survive harsh winter conditions. Although Africanized bees will never overtake honeybee populations in northern states, most backyard beekeepers obtain their bee supply from the south. This means that northern “beekers” (as beekeepers call themselves) often wind up with aggressive bees who are unable to survive the climatic conditions. The best possible solution for bees and humanity is to focus on restoring native bee populations.

How Flower Lovers Can Help the Bees
If you’re like most flower gardeners, you plant the flowers that look good in your yard and make you happy to have in your outdoor space. In many instances that means there’s a lot of blooms at one time and few or none at others. You can extend honey flow, giving native bees more time to store up food for winter and increasing their chances of survival by planting flowers that bloom in a more staggered fashion.

Depending on your location, those plantings may be different and occur at different times. I live in New England and take an “un-managed” approach to plantings. In New England, the first food for bees appears around April and most people mow it down or spend lots of money trying to rid their lawn of them. Can you guess what it is? Dandelions! While I’m not suggesting you let your lawn become a meadow the way I have, perhaps it’s possible to have a dandelion patch. These “weeds” are not only great for bees, but also have tremendous medicinal properties and can be used to make wine.

Next up is clover. Bees love clover and these happy little flowers also make tasty honey. Around the same time the clover is blooming, crocuses and other early spring bulbs start to make their way above ground. Clover, if left to its own devices will take the bees through most of the summer and into the fall when asters appear. Summer bulbs and vegetable garden blooms slowly appear throughout the growing season.Alsike Clover, Trifolium hybridum

What’s the bloom schedule like in your area? Do you have a variety of plants blooming throughout the growing season? If you’d like to boost the bee population in your area there are seed mixes available. If you’re a beekeeper or you’d like to help the bees have more food for the winter, these seed mixes might be the way to go.

Native Metallic Green Sweat Bee


by Jessica of

The green sweat bee is a beautiful native bee that comes out to pollinate from spring to fall.  These beauties typically nest underground in tunnels, which are sometimes adjacent to many other sweat bee nests.  They will sometimes even share an entrance into many diverging nesting tunnels.   It has even been documented that these sweat bees are even willing to nest next to other species of bees!

Nests are formed as they dig the holes with their jaws into the side of a dirt hill, and use mud to form partitions between each egg.  There is no honey made by these bees, but they are great pollinators to many flowers, which means more seeds of those flowers for the next season!

These bees are often on the smaller side (1/4 inch) but can approach 1/2 inch long.  The males have a green head and thorax, while the females are typically all green, with exception to one who has black and white abdomen with a green head and thorax.

They can be seen across North America feeding on a wide variety of blooms, as they are generalists.

Next time you are out gardening or amidst a large plot of flowers, watch closely and you might catch a glimpse of these remarkable bees.

Pollinators Support Biodiversity

by Jessica of The Bees Waggle

Biodiversity is the variety of life.  It showcases the relationships between all life forms on Earth.  It is the web of life, connecting all life on Earth in an interdependent web of function, purpose, and necessity.   It can be a protective mechanism against catastrophic failure of life.

Biodiversity provides:

A wide array of foods and materials, which contributes to the survival of all.  Examples include: medicines derived from plants; 7000 species of plants are also food sources for other species.

Genetic diversity, which defends against diseases and pests.

Example:  Monoculture crops are not diverse, genetically or otherwise,  and are thus susceptible to influxes of pests and disease, which is one reason why farmers of these crops are so dependent on chemicals to sustain crops. Planting hedgerows with a variety of plants encourages natural pest control for crops via predatory insects and birds.

Ecological services, which are functions performed by many species that result in sustaining life on Earth, and are a supported by biodiversity. Within each ecological service, there are many species at play.

Some examples of ecological services are:

Decomposition of waste

       Water purification

       Pest control

       Flood moderation

       Soil fertility


Adaptability to disturbances, which is achieved by a concerted effort of many life forms repairing the damage done by a natural disaster, or another form of disturbance.

Every piece of every ecosystem is important and each piece depends on the other pieces. We, as humans, are part of a planet-wide ecosystem, and we depend on many different systems for our survival.  One extremely important web we depend on is that of the pollinators.

Pollination supports biodiversity!  It is a mutually beneficial relationship between the pollinator and the pollinated. One without the other would be catastrophic. Pollination supports diversity of plants, as well as the animals that feed on those plants.  This beneficial relationship reaches broadly to birds, small mammals, large mammals, other insects, and us!  If this relationship were lost, many ecosystems would implode.

Pollinators contribute to biodiversity and life on Earth in ways that are significant to every ecosystem existing today.  Roughly 90 % of all flowering plant species are specialized for animal-assisted pollination!  7000 plant species are a form of food for other species.  Many of these flowering plants develop food only as a result of visiting pollinators, and this food supports the lives of countless species, including humans!  The disappearance of pollinators would inflict catastrophic consequences on the entire planet.

The diversity of pollinators alone is staggering!  There are 20,000 bee species accounted for on Earth, and there are likely more. This number does not account for the hundreds of thousands of species of flies, moths, butterflies, birds, bats, and beetles who also pollinate flowering plants.

Our pollinators are struggling.  Some populations of butterflies have declined as much as 90%!  Honeybee colony losses are at an all time high!  What do you think that means for our native bee species?  I can tell you it isn’t good.  The struggle is due to: loss of habitat, lack of food, and pesticide use.  

The fact that pollinators are broadly struggling threatens the balance of biodiversity, and life on Earth!

You can help by doing the following: add back habitat (shelter, food, and water), plant flowering plants, and please stop the use of all pesticides (including: insecticides, fungicides, and herbicides).  

Lives of Solitary Bees

Lives of Solitary Bees

by The Bees Waggle

Do solitary bees such as Mason Bees and Leafcutter Bees live through the winter?  Well, to put it simply, no. The mason and leafcutter bees you have seen flying from flower to flower and back to their nesting holes will die off, and the egg cells they have built become the future army of solitary bees, and will emerge next spring and summer. Solitary bees live alone and lay eggs alone, so they do not have the resources that honey bees do to overwinter (more on that topic next week!).  Solitary bees will happily nest next to another solitary bee, and never show aggression toward each other, no time for tomfoolery!

Mason Bee

Here’s a review of what mason bees do!

Mason bees have only one purpose, to procreate, and this motivates them to pollinate with fierce efficiency!

Female mason bees emerge early spring, find a nesting site, and proceed to collect as much pollen and nectar as possible before they begin laying eggs. Mason bees do not have carrying baskets on their hind legs, but collect lots of pollen via static cling on their abdomens. They dive into flowers and immerse themselves in the center of flowers and cover their bodies with pollen before moving to the next flower. This makes them fairly inefficient at carrying pollen over long distances, but efficient at pollinating because they dive into flowers and transfer lots of pollen from flower to flower.

They work vigorously from early morning until early evening, and cover impressive pollinating ground in that time span. One mason bee can pollinate what 100 honey bees can in one day. Wow! But what’s the big rush? Why are these bees working so hard? Mason bees have a much shorter life span than honeybees, and no sister colony workers to help get the job done! So, time is of the essence.

Using mud, mason bees create partitions between individual egg cells, and they fill the cell in a sequence: pollen and nectar provision, egg, mud cap, repeat until the nest is completely filled with egg cells!

Once the cells with eggs inside have all been capped, the eggs are likely to hatch within a few days. Once they have hatched, they are referred to as larva, and remain inside the cell. The larva feeds on the nectar and pollen provision for up to 10 days, which promotes growth of this young mason larva. When the provision has been consumed, the mason larva will spin a cocoon around itself. Inside the cocoon the mason bee will pupate into an adult. This metamorphosis occurs by fall, and then the adult bee hibernates inside the cocoon through the winter until spring.

When spring has arrived once again, the adult mason bees will begin to emerge and begin the cycle all over again. Mother mason bee has arranged all her young into an order inside the nest; males in the front and females in the back. This makes it more favorable for the males to mate with the emerging females. Males will wait very patiently at the nest for a female to emerge, and then mate, and die shortly thereafter.

Below is a chart displaying the timing in a way we can all appreciate.

Here’s a review of the leaf cutter bee’s activities over the summer!

Leafcutter Bee

This species is another solitary breed, like the mason bee. However, unlike mason bees, leaf-cutter bees will do their own excavating in rotting wood, holes in thick stemmed plants, and in any conveniently located crevice.

They too, like mason bees, are very good pollinators compared to the honey bee. One leaf-cutter bee can pollinate what 20-40 honey bees can pollinate. Leaf-cutter bees do not have pollen carrying baskets on their hind legs, but they do carry lots of pollen via static cling created by the hairs on their abdomen. The way they visit flowers is much like the mason bees, diving into the pollen as they fly from flower to flower. This techniques sets them apart from honeybees and makes them very effective pollinators.

Leaf cutter bees use half-moon shaped cuts from leaves to create a package for their eggs.  There is also a sequence within the package: pollen and nectar provision, egg, cap it with another piece of leaf. Like the mason bee life cycle, the young bees will pupate into an adult by fall and hibernate within the leafy package until the following spring! They will emerge late spring and work all summer long!

So, not to worry, we will see our pollinating friends next spring buzzing about, pollinating our gardens!



Vegetables That Grow In The Shade

Vegetables for Shade

by Sandy Swegel

OMG, Can you believe how hot it is? That’s the refrain from everybody I talk to. I’ll work in the garden when it’s below freezing or when there’s light rain, but I draw the line at working in the sun when the temperature is above 90. Unfortunately, temps around Denver area are in the upper 90’s. Poor Phoenix was 118. As one of the weather services said, “millions of people in the US are experiencing temperatures 10 – 20 degrees above normal this weekend.

So as I stood under a big tree and looked across the yard at my lettuce wilting under the hot sun, I started rethinking what my vegetable garden should look like. All those leafy vegetables don’t need full sun….and they’d deeply appreciate some relief on hot afternoons.

So, note to self: next year make some new beds in the shade. Dappled shade is best and dark shade won’t work, but the only vegetables that need lots of sun are those fruit producing vegetables like tomatoes and peppers.

There are lots of lists on what to grow in shade, but blogger Empress of Dirt has the most thorough, showing the gradient of shade tolerance. Your area will vary. Shade in Denver is different from shade in Seattle, so experiment. You know you have too much shade when the plants are barely growing. But I’ve watched arugula thrive under a big apple tree where it barely got any direct sun.


What to do about those poor greens out in the hot sun now? Give them some temporary shade. A shade cloth structure is ideal. I’m going to pull out the winter frost cloth and drape it over the garden till these extreme temperatures subside.


Keep your garden well watered but don’t drown it. No amount of water can compensate for extreme heat.

In the meantime, we’re grateful to all the firefighters out battling wildfires erupting throughout the Southwest in this record-breaking heat wave. They are true heroes.


Photos and information:

Five recipes for your ice cream maker that aren’t ice cream.

by Sandy Swegel

It was really hot yesterday. I tried to stay working in the shade but by the end of the day, I was dehydrated and light-headed despite drinking water all day. This was my wake-up call to put the ice cream maker freezer bowl into the freezer where it stays the rest of the summer. If summer’s going to be like this, I need instant access to frozen goodies. The freezer bowl has to be hard frozen to work well. I have an extra bowl or two I picked up at the thrift store.

Now I’ve heard you can use the ice cream maker for ice cream or frozen yogurt.  When I’ve gotten overheated, I don’t want dairy…I want frozen water and sweetness and maybe some vitamins and nutrients thrown in. I don’t want “natural flavors” and high fructose corn syrup like the so-called healthy treats at the grocery.

I want concoctions from fruits and or vegetables. So the first task of my ice cream maker is to turning fruit and or vegetables into cold frozen thirst quenchers.

1. Slushies are my favorites: yummy, thirst-quenching slushy drinks when water just isn’t enough.
All the aqua fresca drinks of Central America make excellent slushy drinks.
The recipes are simple: Blend fruit and/or vegetables, water and sugar to taste. Traditionally people just throw ice cubes into the blender, but I strain the blended juice-water for a less pulpy drink. Then, I want the drink even colder than ice cubes can make it, so I pour it all into the ice cream maker and drink when slushy.

Great aqua fresca combos:
Cucumber and lime and sugar
Hibiscus Tea

2. Sorbets

Make double batches of slushies, and put some aside into the freezer to freeze solid. Voila: Sorbet.
Sorbets are great for desserts, but I like them as surprise mini-servings between courses, to “clear the palate” for the next course. Cucumber sorbet anyone?

3. Cold Soups
On hot days I love cold soups…but summer meals are often last-minute preparations so if I didn’t remember to make and refrigerate the soup ahead of time, it isn’t going to be very cold. But with my VitaMixer or a good blender and my ice cream maker, I’m set for a cold soup in the hot evening air.

The recipes are simple:

Gazpacho: throw tomatoes and other ingredients into Vita-Mix. Blend to a slurry. Pour into ice cream maker until nearly slushy. Top with cilantro. By the time the gazpacho gets to the table, it’s very cold without being frozen.

Cucumber soup. Cucumber, skin optional, into Vita-Mix. Chill to near freezing in the ice cream maker. Fresh dill and a big spoon of sour cream.

Many other vegetables work too like carrots or even beets.

4. Frozen cocktails
Need I say more? Pour limeade into ice cream maker. Once it’s freezing, pour tequila in. Done!

5. Frozen Coke
Ok, so this is the treat from my childhood. I know, Coke’s terrible for you. Too much sugar and caffeine, the acidity rots your teeth. But when it’s hot outside, nothing hits the spot like partially frozen coke. As kids, we’d put the bottles in the freezer and hope to remember them before they froze and exploded. My mother would pour flat coke or root beer into dixie cups to freeze. So it is a natural progression for me just to pour coke into the ice cream maker and make my own Coke slushie.

And of course, I’ve heard the ice cream maker makes great ice cream.


Photos and info:

A Working Garden Club

by Sandy Swegel

There are lots of garden clubs around. I personally belong to three and follow another two email-only groups online. When I first started gardening as an adult, I didn’t think I’d ever be a garden-club-kinda girl. Growing up in a Southern Big City, garden clubs to me meant you had to wear your best dress and go to a lovely tea with people of a certain social class in a beautifully manicured rose garden. That was just my own prejudices showing through because the love of gardening knows no class lines. However, I didn’t think I’d ever get my fingernails clean enough to go to one of those parties. With age and experience comes some wisdom and now I do go to one of those formal groups with officers and Robert’s Rules of order and I admire the community of members who have known each other for decades and who are so wise about local gardening.

I belong to another scruffier group that is especially interested in “culinary gardening” – gardens with lots of edibles. We mostly meet through email because there are quite a few market farmers and community garden volunteers so people don’t have time to meet with all the work they have to do…but any questions you ever have can be answered on our email list. We also order seeds and roots and greenhouse supplies together in bulk to save a lot of money. Every once in a while I meet someone who says they belong to this group and I have to ask their email address before I recognize them. We do have a heck of a delicious holiday party once the season ends.

A third occasional club I meet with has one primary task…to maintain a public rose garden a few times a year. So we are a kind of working group. We don’t all know each other well, but we know and love our roses.

I was at a small town garden tour yesterday and met people from a different kind of gardening club. They are a small (fewer than ten members) club who is a real WORKING group. No sitting around chatting about plants or looking at slide shows for them. Regularly they meet in one member’s garden and work for a good two hours on a garden project of the member’s choice. Naturally, this is followed by cold drinks and good food. They have met for years and welcome anyone…as long as they are willing to work to their ability. I admire this group because their gardens and knowledge have steadily improved over the years but they have also become a close-knit community based on their love of the earth and growing plants. They share in each other’s lives too and tend each others’ gardens or bring supper if someone is sick. They freely welcome newcomers to their group…if they’re willing to work.



I’m fond of saying that gardening is like the new church. Good people with shared values coming together and supporting one another in many ways and having a good time. Everyone clearly loves plants but there’s not a lot of doctrine. (well not counting opinions on pesticides.)

If I ever moved to a new town, the first thing I’d do is join a garden club. That’s the way to make true blue friends AND get more free plants.

Photo credits

Pesticide Applicators CAN Protect Pollinators

By Sandy Swegel

Most of the visitors to our Facebook page and website are already among the converted. We know how important pollinators are and we’re doing everything we can from avoiding pesticides to planting pollinator gardens in hope of preserving our pollinators.

Sometimes as activists for the things we feel passionate about, we human beings have a tendency to make the people who oppose our opinion into our enemy. The reality is that right now, everyone isn’t going to quit using pesticides no matter how much we want that. We all have spouses or neighbors or friends who are going to use pesticides no matter what we say. Garden and tree businesses are going to spray. So what the North American Pollinator Protection Campaign (NAPPC) is doing is bringing together government agencies like the EPA, pesticide manufacturers, licensed pesticide applicators, and non-profits like beekeeping associations to develop guidelines to teach pesticide applicators how to choose pesticides and how to spray while causing the least harm to bees and pollinators that end up as collateral damage.

A couple of obvious things pesticide users can do:

Schedule your pesticide application when bees aren’t active. Saturday morning or in the evenings after dinner before dark are the worse time to apply pesticides. Bees and pollinators are foraging then and likely to get sprayed or eat pollen or nectar that has just been sprayed. For some pesticides, simply applying it at night protects the pollinators while still killing the pests. You have to wake up before the bees or stay up after they go to sleep.

Plan your pesticide applications when plants aren’t in bloom. This isn’t always possible but some bloom times are short and you might find that waiting another week until the bloom is finished will still kill your pests and protect the pollinators.

Avoid drift and runoff.
Don’t spray on windy days. The wind carries the pesticide into neighboring areas or into your nose and eyes.
Don’t spray when it is about to rain. Many pesticides will dry within a few hours of application and be less toxic to pollinators. If you spray when rain is coming, those pesticides are going to be washed away into storm drains or rivers.

Keep the pesticide spray on the problem area….don’t keep spraying the rocks or sidewalk because you’re walking from one area to another. Use only as much pesticide as needed to achieve your goal. Drenching everything isn’t necessary.

Read and re-read labels. The formulations of your favorite pesticides can change Some are very toxic to bees. Others are only toxic under certain conditions. Know exactly what you are spraying and how it affects bees.

Pesticide applicators aren’t out there spraying because they hate bees. They want to get rid of their pests in the most efficient way. Print out this brochure for friends and neighbors and even companies you see applying pesticides. Help the people who INSIST on using pesticides learn that they can still protect pollinators.

Photos and more information:


by Sandy Swegel

One way to design your garden is to plan ahead, make sketches and get all of your seeds started indoors 8 weeks before frost.  Another way, for those of us not quite so organized, is to add a plant you absolutely fall in love with, no matter what the time of year.  Lupines fit this latter category for me.  Until I see them bloom, I forget how amazing they are. When they come into bloom, I am awestruck.  They are so unusual and big and beautiful and colorful.  I envy those in New Hampshire who went last week to the Sugar Hill Lupine Festival where you could ride horse-drawn wagons through fields of lupine.  The festival continues this weekend if you live nearby.  Friends sent photos of lupines against the sea in Cape Cod and I knew it was time to get the packets of seeds of lupine that I’ve had unopened since February.


June is probably a little late to get flowers for this year from seed, but it is perfect timing for growing big plants that will put out big flowers next June.  Even if you already have some lupine growing, it is a good time to start some more.  Lupines are biennial or short-lived perennials so you need to keep starting new plants if they aren’t seeding themselves around.  They germinate pretty easily especially if you give them a cold stratification or just soak them overnight in warm water before seeding.  Lupines are easy to grow.  They like moist areas but tolerate drought.


There are good reasons to grow lupine other than their drop-dead gorgeousness.  Permaculturists value lupine as nitrogen fixers and phosphorus accumulators.  Bees and other nectar-eating pollinators value the abundant nectar from lupines.  Lacewings like to lay eggs on them. Birds eat their seeds. And we feast on their beauty.

Photo Credit

Lupines of Cape Cod, L Fulton, 2016

Perched Among the Lupines, Michael Carr of Somersworth, NH 2013