Tiny Neighborhoods in the winter landscape

by Sandy Swegel

A week of warm days meant it was time  to cut back the ornamental grasses that are so popular in Colorado.  What is winter interest in December and January now looks messy and broken by winter winds and snow load.  Cutting back big grasses can be a bear of a task but it has its unexpected rewards.

Feather reed grasses like Karl Forster should be cut first because they green up the earliest so look much nicer if they get their haircut while mostly dormant.  One secret to keeping your ornamental grasses looking good (so you don’t have to dig them up and divide them much) is to cut them very short to within an inch or two of the ground instead of the ugly foot high cut that’s don’t in urban medians.

And in that inch or two above the ground is where I found the tiny neighborhoods hidden in winter debris.  The noise and racket I made cutting and then raking brought out the inhabitants.

First, adult ladybugs flew up…a little surprised at the sudden sun but not too alarmed…mostly looking around for aphids to eat, maybe water to drink.

Next the young lime-green lacewings stirred, reluctant to be disturbed as the true adolescents they were.  They tried to just move a centimeter to the left under some other debris to go back to sleep.  The bug equivalent of pulling the blankets over their heads.

Finally, I accidentally disturbed a solitary bee that was half an inch under the soil.  Poor bee was in a semi-dormant state and just lay on its side barely moving as the earthquake that was me had just thrown him to the surface. They reminded me more of the college student down in the basement on Spring Break.  The house needs to be burning down before they wake up at the crack of dawn on a Sunday morning.   I learned the hard way to be sure to wear gloves when because a groggy bee will reflexively sting you much like that surly college student is likely to throw something at you at 7 am.  I took a bit of loose dirt and debris and buried the bee again, hoping it would just settle down unharmed.  No point in waking up now before breakfast was ready. The dandelions don’t have flowers yet.

 

Nature in late winter hides most of her inhabitants.  They are in tiny nests under grasses and at the feet of willows or in debris under the shrubs.  The insects I saw in my first venture into the garden don’t bolt awake as we do on a Monday morning trying to get to work.  They’re more like cats, stretching and maybe yawning then turning around to find another comfy position to sleep in.   They are just adorable.

Photo credits

https://closecritters.com/2016/11/27/trash-bugs-lacewing-larvae/

http://dallas.culturemap.com/news/restaurants-bars/06-09-13-north-texas-farmer-garden-native-solitary-bees/

Five Spot: A wildflower for shade and for native bees

by Sandy Swegel

I love blue flowers so naturally I am enthused about our new “Blue Blazes” collection of seeds for eight different blue wildflowers. What really caught my attention is a little flower I’ve never seen growing that now I just have to have.

Nemophila maculata is white with single blue-purple spots on the tips of each of its five petals. So cute. Such an unusual design is believed to have evolved to capture the attention of native solitary bees. “Five Spot,” the flower’s common name, is an early cool-season annual flower that prefers shady moist areas. Although my garden in Colorado is pretty dry, shady areas under trees are well-watered in Spring where the snow is slow to melt in the shade. Perfect I think for a flower whose name Nemophila loosely translates as “woodland lover.”

 

I’m going to plant my five spots in an area with that has early Spring purple crocuses and early Summer blue columbine. I’m hoping Five Spot blooms just between those two.

 

Five Spot finishes blooming once the weather gets hot, but it leaves seeds to reappear next Spring. Now I have a new travel destination on my list: California’s Sierra Nevada in early Spring when fields of this sweet wildflower bloom naturally.

 

 

 

Photo credit
https://agresearchmag.ars.usda.gov/2010/aug/bee

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nemophila_maculata#

Alyssum

by Sandy Swegel

It’s time to give the last garden award of the year: Latest Bloomer of the Year. Late blooming flowers are important because they are the last nectar and pollen sources of the season for bees and other pollinators. Bees especially show up on sunny Fall days when the warmth prompts the bees to leave the hive but freezes have already killed off all the flowers except for a hardy few who have little warm micro-ecosystems.

It’s a tie this year. The day after Thanksgiving only two flowers were in bloom: Sweet Alyssum, Lobularia maritima, the annual, and yellow perennial alyssum, Aurinia saxatilis.

Perennial alyssum is the Spring yellow cascading ground-cover known as “Basket of Gold“. It’s glory days are Spring, but it throws out tiny yellow flowers here and there most of the year. The cooler weather of Fall spurs on more flowers and the bees can see those bright yellow flowers from far away.

White or Sweet Allysum is the annual often found in planters mixed with geraniums. It is sturdy, blooms all season and has a very sweet smell. Bees love it all season long. It reseeded itself which is how it made itself at home between pavers on a stone patio. Adorable, hardy and bee food. What a flower!

So, dear Alyssums, we salute you this year as latest bloomers. The bees appreciate your food and the humans love your beauty as winter gray takes over our once colorful gardens.Basket-of-gold AlyssumSweet AlyssumPhotos:

http://typesofflower.com/alyssum-flower-beautiful-meaning-with-gently-care-flower/alyssum-flower-annual-or-perennial/
https://roundrockgarden.wordpress.com/tag/parsley/

Ask Me Anything

by Sandy Swegel

Ask me Anything

About gardening that is. That’s what I tell people when I’m looking for blog ideas or a little fun.

So the answer this week in the form of a question was from my friend Jim:

“Why do sunflowers follow the sun but then all die facing the same way?”

That was a puzzler. I had to look that one up…fortunately there was just an article in August in the journal Science.

 

Sunflowers do follow the sun as long as they are still growing. The start off facing east and follow through the day facing west at sunset. Overnight, they grow and face east by sunrise.

This has long been known to gardeners and scientists…but Science answered WHY they do it. Because flowers that face the sun are warmer and attract more pollinators than those facing away from the sun. Well, that’s a good way to make sure you are pollinated. Very clever Mother Nature.

But then there’s the question of why they all face East when they die. It’s actually much simpler than that. Sunflowers only follow the sun as long as they are growing. Once they reach their full mature height, they no longer grow taller. The main stem thickens and hardens and no longer moves with the sun. It stops in a position facing East. So that’s naturally where it dies. Why? Again, it’s just to entice the pollinators. An east-facing flower warms up earlier and stays warmer longer during the day when most pollinators are feeding.

The one exception to this rule? Wild sunflowers. They have so many small flowers at all kinds of angles, they face every which way. Their leaves tend to follow the sun while growing, but the flowers are all over the place.

 

So, thanks for the question, Jim.

Next! Ask me anything you’ve wondered about gardening.

 

Photos:

http://rebrn.com/re/this-sunflower-doesnt-want-to-face-east-492414/

https://redlegsrides.blogspot.com/2010/08/sunflower-sunrise.html

 

Bees Sleep

by Sandy Swegel

One evening near dusk in the garden, a gardening friend’s inquisitive granddaughter asked: “Where do bees sleep?”  This obvious question brought on a googling frenzy.  We could guess that honey bees might sleep in the hive. But what about the 4000 species of native solitary bees?  Hive-dwelling honey bees are a small percentage of the total bee population.

The answer should have been obvious:  Bees sleep on flowers! How adorable!

 

To be more precise, male native bees usually sleep on flowers.  When the female bees are laying eggs and raising young bees, they often sleep in solitary nests in the ground.

Sleeping on flowers has lots of advantages. It’s soft and very convenient.  You wake up and there’s breakfast (nectar and pollen) served in bed!

 

Some of my favorite stories of bees sleeping come from the squash bee family.  Squash bees spend their day inside a squash blossom.  As evening approaches, the male squash bee makes himself comfy as the squash flower wilts and closes around him.  In the morning, not too early, the flower opens again and the bee begins a new days foraging.  If the female bees have made nests, the nests are usually in soft dirt under the squash fruit.  So if you are growing pumpkins, it’s likely there are some young bees growing up under one of those pumpkins.

Foraging bees need the most sleep.  You’ll often find bumblebees taking an afternoon nap on a flower, all tuckered out from a hard day’s work. Younger bees and bees that do less foraging often just take short little 30 second naps.  Honey bees sometime sleep in the hive and sometimes they like to camp out and sleep under the stars. Next time you see a bee, motionless on a flower, don’t worry, it’s not dead…it’s just taking a nap!

 

 

Photos:

http://www.yalescientific.org/2015/03/bzzzzzz-the-bees-need-for-sleep/

http://www.arkive.org/honey-bee/apis-mellifera/image-A18941.html

http://www.abc.net.au/news/2015-11-06/natiive-bees-daisy/6918448

Seven reasons to grow Agastache

by Sandy Swegel

The number one reason, of course, is because hummingbirds love Agastache.  I was trying to pull a few weeds yesterday and at least three different hummingbirds were dining on the Agastache blooms…with one dive-bombing me to get me out of “their” territory.

As I enjoyed the late afternoon sun amid the buzzing I thought six more reasons I REALLY love Agastache.

Startling beautiful flowers

Complex blossoms in multi colors with long tubes.  Mine are orange and red.  Agastaches come in several colors in red-orange-apricot sunset colors.  Another Agastache (Lavender Hyssop) is blue. The Agastache stems make for an interesting addition in a cut flower arrangement.

Interesting Foliage

This Agastache (Agastache rupestris) has thin airy leaves that look quite blue.  An interesting texture when planted en masse.

 

Divine Fragrance

My little patch smells like root beer.  There’s a whole series of Agastaches named after the bubble gums they smell like.

Great in a Mixed Border

This little patch grows in the lavender bed.  When the lavender is in full display, the Agastaches are still small.  Then as the Agastache come into play, the lavenders are still putting out a few complementary purple flowers.  Orange butterfly weed is planted next to the Agastache making both look more interesting.  The Agastache reseed gently throughout the border.

Attract bees and all kinds of pollinators

Yesterday I saw hummingbird moths, native bees, honey bees, a huge bumblebee and some tiny flies…in addition to the hummingbirds.  Butterflies were there earlier in the day.

 

Photos:

monarchbutterflygarden.net/5-butterfly-flowers-attract-monarchs-and-hummingbirds/

 

Squash Bee

Peponapis: A Squash Lovin’ BeeSquash Bee

Jul 19, 2016 04:54 pm | thebeeswaggle

by Jessica Goldstrohm

Did you know some bees are very dependent on particular species of flowers?

This lovely bee is the squash bee, and I was fortunate enough to discover her, along with may others nestled inside squash flowers of a good friend’s garden! This was a very healthy and thriving collection of squash bees, and they are very specific to squash plant reproduction.

Squash bees are quite predictable in the flower preference they have; squash flowers, any type of squash flower, but it must be a squash flower.  They fly very early in the morning, sometimes before dawn seeking the opening squash flowers.  The females will spend much of the morning nestled inside squash flowers, circling the stamen of the flower, collecting nectar and pollen for their nests.  In fact, you will often find groups of squash bees within each squash bloom, absent of any conflict among them.

07.29.16 SquashBee2

Squash Bee

My photos too!

Squash bees are solitary nesters, meaning they work independently to build her nest, lay eggs, and collect all resources for the eggs they lay.  However, they may nest in aggregations of hundreds, kind of like apartment buildings are to humans. We live next to each other, but we all lead separate lives.

Squash bees prefer to nest VERY close to their favorite flowering plants, so you will most often find their nesting holes in the ground under squash plants.  Females will retreat to he nest come rundown, while males find a nice squash flower to sleep in until morning.

This activity continues throughout the summer, and partway into fall, then all the existing bees die, leaving behind the next season’s generation nestled all in a row of egg cells containing adult bees.  This new generation of bees will hibernate until the following spring or early summer when the squash plants are flowering.  Squash bees are so particular about the flowers they feed on, that their lifecycle revolves around squash plants!

I’m sure you may have already arrived at the question of what does that mean for them when we go to clear the dead squash plants at the end of the season?  Well, too much deep tilling can lead to complete destruction of a mother bee’s hard work.  Squash bees nest approximately 1.5 feet straight down into the ground, so only rigorous tilling harms nests. Leaving some of the plant behind can serve as insulation to the hibernating bees through the winter.

Next time you see a squash plant, take a peek inside to see a group of squash bees, and look under the squash plant for any holes in the ground that might be a squash bee’s nest.

There you have it! Another native bee we depend on to get resources we all enjoy in the fall!  I can’t wait to have some zucchini from my plants, and pumpkin too!  So many things occurring right beneath our noses, and we miss them when we don’t stop and observe.

Cheers to joining the movement to save our bees!

Gaillardia aristata, Blanket Flower

by Sandy Swegel

Gaillardia is my favorite flower this week!

Gaillardia aristata or blanket flower is already a favorite of xeric gardeners. It doesn’t require much water. It comes in beautiful orange and red and yellow colors. It blooms a long time. It is one tough little plant. I had one re-seed in the cracked hard dry clay of my driveway once. It’s intriguing…some gaillardia have petals that are double at the edges giving it an interesting alien look.

But this week I fell in love with Gaillardia all over again because I met the Gaillardia Flower Moth (Schinia masoni). This is a little moth that mimics the coloration of the Gaillardia so well, I could barely get a picture that shows it. This flower moth basically lounges on the Gaillardia flowers all day and does its pollination, as moths do, at night. The exclusive food of the larvae of moth is the Gaillardia!

 

While the moth relies only on this species for its life cycle, it species feeds many different insects and pollinators. Here are some of the primary visitors to Gaillardia:

Butterflies
Edwards fritillary
Dakota skipper

Bees:
Honey Bees (Gaillardia is heavily visited by honeybees
Leaf Cutter

Beetles
Flower Beetles (Listrus senilis)

 

Pests
I haven’t often seen pests on Gaillardia but researches say they are visited by aphids, caterpillars, slugs, thrips, spider midges and leafhoppers. I don’t like pests but they are food for the beneficial pollinators.

I have one of those “Isn’t Nature Amazing!” moments when I see Gaillardia. One beautiful flower and so many beneficiaries.

Photos:
Charles S. Lewallen; alamy.com; commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/

Natural Weed and Pest Control

by Jessica of TheBeesWaggle.com

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!

Jessica

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 BeyondPesticides.org 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 https://www.clippings.me/sarahwoodard

________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

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.