Five Ways You Can Help Bumblebees

Save the Bees

by Sam Doll

When you hear “Save the Bees!” what is the first thing you think of? For most people, the first image that comes to mind are large colonies of hard-working honeybees buzzing to and fro in service of their queen. This fantasy might even include a beekeeper lovingly tending to their many hives. While the honeybee is a vital part of our food system, pollinating many of our crops and providing us with beeswax and honey, they are not the only bee we need to be worried about!

There are nearly 4,000 species of native bees in the United States alone! Native bees Honeybees were brought to North America by European settlers and are not actually endemic to the US. These native bees come in an astonishing variety of shapes, sizes, and colors. In this blog, we will talk about one group of native bee and what you can do to help them: the bumblebee!

Bumble bee on purple flower.

Bumblebees are one of the most recognizable types of bees, right behind the honeybee, notable due to their large, fuzzy appearance. There are 46 species of bumblebee in North America. Bumblebees are also unique for being some of the only social native bees, forming small underground colonies with a queen and worker system. However, unlike honeybees, the colony does not overwinter but creates new “queens” that will emerge and create their own colonies the next spring.

Bumblebees are especially important because they can perform buzz pollination. Some plants’ pollen is more firmly attached to their anthers and needs a little help being shaken loose. The bumblebee, along with a few other native bees, can “buzz” by dethatching their wings from their flying muscles and vibrating. This releases the sticky pollen and gives the bee and the flower what it needs! Tomatoes, eggplant, and blueberries are all buzz pollinated species!

Tips for protecting Bumblebees

  1. Plant native flowers and bumblebee friendly vegetables. We recommend our Bee Rescue Wildflower Mix or any of our heirloom tomatoes in the veggie section of our store!
  2. Leave the more unused parts of your land unused. Bumblebees nest in old animal burrows and new queens will overwinter in tiny holes in the ground.
  3. Avoid raking, tilling or mowing your yard until April or May to protect overwintering bees
  4. Eliminate pesticide use in your yard. Try more natural pest management techniques. Check out our blog about natural weed and pest control.
  5. Report the bees you see to Bumble Bee Watch, a new citizen-science project sponsored by the Xerces Society and five North American partners.

 

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It’s National Pollinator Week

Pollinator Awareness

by Heather StoneLogo for pollinator week from pollinator.org.

Eleven years ago the U.S. Senate approved the designation of one week in June as National Pollinator Week to bring attention to the urgent problem of our declining pollinator populations. This year June 18-24th 2018 is National Pollinator Week. There will be many activities to celebrate across the nation and the globe.

 

Want to find a way to get involved? Check out the listing of activities by state at http://pollinator.org/pollinator-week.

 

Here is a sampling of what is happening here in our home state of Colorado.

 

Garfield County is hosting its first annual Pollinator Palooza! There will Pollinator Gardening for Junior Master Gardeners on June 19th. On June 22nd there will be Building Mason Bee Houses for Pollinators.

For more information check out their website. http://garfield.extension.colostate.edu/programs/gardening-horticulture/

 

In Salida, CO, Blessed are the Pollinators Project is working on a collaborative art project involving the making and hanging of 1000 prayer flags for pollinators. Check out their website to see how to get involved. https://www.blessedarethepollinators.com

 

The Butterfly Pavilion in Westminster, CO will be celebrating all week long with guided garden tours, arts and games, beeswax candle making, milkweed seed giveaways and more. For the 21 and over crowd there will be a sommelier-led honey tasting & food pairing on the evening of Saturday, June 23rd. Find out at the details on their website at https://www.butterflies.org.  Check out this interview with Butterfly Pavilion’s head beekeeper Mario Padilla at https://cbsloc.al/2K65c16 

 

On June 20th at 6:30 pm the City of Greeley as part of their Landscape Lecture series will be hosting The Native Plants: Bees Butterflies & Beauty class. Discover ways to create beautiful gardens while providing good habitat for bees, butterflies and other wildlife. For more information and to register for the class go to http://greeleygov.com/services/ws/conservation/about/#event|native-plants|14147

Swarm Season

A swarm of honey bees on the bottom of a rope swing.

Photo courtesy of pixabay.

How to Handle a Swarm of Bees

by Engrid Winslow

Have you ever spotted a honey bee swarm on the eaves of your house, a fence post or in a tree? They have even been spotted on parked bicycles! Swarming is the natural result of a hive that has made it through the winter and ramps up for spring when pollen is available and nectar flows begin. The hive gets crowded and the bees raise a second queen and the older queen leaves the hive with about half of the hive population to find a new place to nest.

You SHOULD NOT do any of the following things:
1. Please don’t spray them with water or insecticides. We need to protect these pollinators, not harm them.
2. No need to worry about them attacking you. These bees are very docile and are just hanging out while scout members of the new colony are looking for a place to call home.
3. Don’t try to capture them unless you are an experienced beekeeper as you could harm the bees or lose the queen in the process.

Here’s what you CAN (and should) do:
1. Let someone know the location of the swarm. If your neighbor is a beekeeper it might even be their hive that swarmed.
2. Contact local beekeeper’s associations in your area. Many already have a swarm hotline up and running at this time of year.
3. If you can’t find a beekeeper, then call your local county extension agent.
4. Take photos! A bee swarm is an interesting phenomenon and you might not see one again for a long time.

Take a Listening Walk

By: Sandy Swegel

The skies were gray this morning.  The landscape was brown and dead.  I kept looking for Spring but at best there were just the green tips of bulbs appearing among dead leaves. Maybe the buds were swelling on trees.  It was cold, but it still felt like Spring.  How could that be?

The loud demanding chirping of some birds interrupted my thoughts and I realized I could HEAR Spring. So I took a listening walk to a nearby pond and while I couldn’t really see Spring…the pond scenery was just as brown as my yard was…but now I knew…nature is waking up.

I could hear the male birds in rapt mating calls…doing their best to make some new baby birds.  Lots of mating and birthing going on in Spring.  I could hear some tiny chirps that I think were baby sparrows or finches.  There was rustling in the winter leaf debris.  I couldn’t see anything but I could guess there were baby caterpillars and insects under there that the birds were scratching to find.  I suspect there were little mice in there too.  Which meant that snakes were waking up and slithering in the grasses.

There wasn’t much to see, but I could hear nature erupting in new life. Spring is noisy.   A nature walk in January is pretty quiet except for some chickadees and perhaps large animals running off, startled by a human invading their wild territory.  But Spring makes an absolute racket.  Even the water is noisy.  A week of warm weather had melted ice and brooks were babbling again.

Very early Spring is subtle.  I know from the sounds that new life is starting.  But it’s a slow lazy waking up.  Snow is coming later in the week and I’m reminded of the adage that March is the snowiest month.

The avid gardener has just a few tasks in early Spring.  One is to enjoy nature without having to work to weed or control it.  Another is to do some pruning while the trees and shrubs are still dormant.  But after a cold morning walk, the best thing this gardener can do is go inside and start some more seeds under the lights.  Outside, Mother Nature can call the shots.  Inside, I’m getting a head start on all those seeds that I want to grow now!

Photo credits:

cuddlesandmuddles.wordpress.com/2013/03/06/world-book-day-activities-taking-a-listening-walk/

www.twrcwildlifecenter.org/volunteer/baby-bird-program/

Tiny Neighborhoods in the winter landscape

Get to Know the Insects in Your Garden

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/

Three Wild and Spicy reasons to grow Wild Arugula

Gardening Tips

by Sandy Swegel

Wild arugula is my favorite spring green of the week and this year it’s the first thing I’ve seeded out into the garden during our warm spell.

Similar to regular arugula, wild arugula has a “wilder” taste and thinner leaf.  It looks quite like a mustard weed when young if you aren’t familiar with it.  Definitely a cool season crop as once the temps get to 80 wild arugula can be quite bitter.

It is very easy to grow, as mustards often are, and can handle less than ideal soil and water.  (Watch out…low water makes it even spicier.). I like to plant it somewhere it can establish itself as a perennial that I can just pick a few leaves now and then to add some zest to dinner.  But a Spring garden patch is essential to get cups and cups of the greens to use in making pesto.

 

So here are my three favorite wild and spicy reasons to grow wild arugula.

SPRING SALADS

Arugula has a nutrient profile similar to other spring tonic herbs like dandelion and nettles, but I like the taste even better for salads or lightly steamed.

PESTO

Wild arugula pesto is an absolute favorite.  Make it with garlic, olive oil, walnuts and Parmesan or goat cheese and you have a fantastic sauce for fettuccine noodles, topping for pizza or spread for appetizers.

POLLINATORS

Naturally, foods that are favorites of pollinators are favorites of mine.  Once summer sets in, wild arugula bolts and sends up tall tiny spiky yellow flowers that pollinators love.  I’ve seen all kinds of bees and butterflies snacking on the wild arugula flowers from summer through late fall.  I also snack on them….I like the flavor of arugula flowers even better than the leaves.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Photo credits

https://www.dherbs.com/articles/featured-articles/wild-arugula-pesto/

http://honest-food.net/arugula-pesto-recipe-pasta/

Wild Arugula; Delicious Low-Water Beauty

Why Grow From Seed

Seed Starting

by Sandy Swegel

We all know it’s a good idea to grow from seed. Every winter I fantasize about the amazing garden I could have if I just got started earlier. And every year I somehow end up buying plants that I know I could have started on my own with a little more planning.

This year will be different she says. To strengthen my resolve and not fall into winter doldrums, here’s my list of Why Grow from Seed.

Native plants.

Native plants are better for pollinators, better for the environment, and more likely to survive and thrive in our yard.

No neonics

There’s only one way to be sure our plants haven’t been treated with pesticides that will hurt pollinators or poison your food. Grow it ourselves from seed. It’s also the best way to keep down unwanted pests like whitefly and thrips that thrive in crowded Big Ag type greenhouses and then come to live in our home gardens.

Diversity.

If we want a standard garden that looks like every other garden on the block, we buy plants where everybody else buys them. Beautiful but kinda conformist. Growing from seed gives us a nearly infinite palette of possibilities. I love having a garden where someone stops and asks “What is That amazing flower?”

More Flowers.

This is the obvious Number One reason to grow from seed. For just a couple bucks we get dozens or hundreds or thousands of plants. The gardeners at the Denver Botanic Gardens often let some reseeding annuals seed themselves all over until their acreage. Last year snapdragons were allowed to grow wherever the wind and birds planted the seeds. We can get the same effect at home. One $2.50 packet of snapdragons has over 14,000 seeds. That’s a lot of adorable low-care flowers to have throughout the garden.

And why do we want more flowers? My first impulse is because they’re just so pretty. But as I happened to read on the front page of our website this morning in big red letters:

“Remember, the more flowers a garden can offer throughout the year, the greater the number of bees and other pollinating insects it will attract and support.”

 

Drought again?!

Gardening Tips

by Sandy Swegel

Unseasonably warm weather means I finally had time to get some more bulbs planted this week.  It has been warm and sunny this fall but I didn’t fully realize how drought had snuck up on us until I went to dig the deep holes for the daffodils.  In decent garden soil that has had regular if modest irrigation all year, the soil below six inches was dry dry dry.  Pulverized dirt dry.  During times of drought, the soil all over dries down.  The water table recedes and deep-rooted trees and grasses have used up whatever water is available.  We can keep irrigating with an inch of water a week on the surface, but it’s not possible to water enough to keep the soil moist deep in the ground if there’s no natural rainfall.

Drought really snuck up on lots of the US this year.  Except for poor southern California, most of the country started the year with good water.  Now significant parts of the plains and southeast (as well as southern California which started the year dry) are experiencing moderate to severe drought.  See the drought monitor for your area.  http://droughtmonitor.unl.edu  In my area, we went from an awesome spring to virtually no rain since July.

So what’s happening in your garden now?  Here’s what happens in moderate drought:

Soil with clay in it turns hard and cracks open.  (The clay shrinks when it dries out.)

Soil critters go into self-preservation mode.   During times of drought, they have varying survival techniques from as simple as laying eggs for the next generation once conditions improve.  Earthworms go into a hibernation-like state called estivation.  Balled up little earthworms are what I found in my garden bed when I was planting bulbs.

What can you do besides pray for rain or snow or freeze?

Give your trees and shrubs a good long slow-watering now.  Trees need 10 gallons of water per inch of trunk diameter once a month.  If your irrigation is still turn on, you can run it longer than usual.  Or put a light sprinkler on for several hours.  Here’s a great fact-sheet on ways to water trees during drought.   http://www.colostate.edu/Dept/CoopExt/4dmg/Trees/caring.htm

Otherwise, leave the soil alone.  Digging in too dry soil ruins soil texture just like digging in too wet soil.  The soil I had dug for the daffodils was like dust when I filled the holes back in.

Pay attention to rain or snow this month.  If you aren’t getting significant precipitation, water the trees and shrubs once a month even if the ground is frozen.

And pray for rain.

Food for Fall Pollinators

Wildflower Seeds

by Sandy Swegel

Fall is a great time for birds and bears.  Gardens and natural areas are full of seeds and berries for getting the calories needed for winter.  Pollinators like bees, flies, butterflies, moths and insects need nectar and pollen food sources.  When I was in the foothills this weekend I noticed that native sources of nectar weren’t very evident. We haven’t had much rain so some late-season flowers finished earlier.  There were still tiny white aster blooms and stray late blooms of Penstemon, Liatris and Gaillardia, but this is nothing like the abundant feast of spring.  Poor pollinators…Fall must be a difficult time…addicted to sugar all summer and then have it all cut off.

 

Fall is one time when it’s good to have nice irrigated areas with annuals and non-native plants so that you can feed the pollinators of fall who are still active.  In home gardens this week I saw dozens of butterflies, bees and moths on late-season annuals like Verbena bonariensis, Cosmos, Zinnias.  Our love of home gardening is very helpful to pollinators.

 

Cornell University released a study this year about monarch butterflies.  While it is true that milkweed is the only food of the caterpillars, adult butterflies eat from all flowering plants.  This time of year the monarchs need a lot of nectar and pollen to give them the strength to migrate back home.  The monarchs can find nectar in areas gardened or farmed by humans.

 

So for those of us who love pollinators, providing some fall habitat with blooming flowers is very helpful to butterflies and all the pollinators. The longer in the season they eat, the better the chance they’ll survive winter.  To get ideas for what to grow, notice what might still be blooming in wild areas and where the pollinators are actively feeding in gardens.   Each year I give out awards to the plants I know for things like “First Bloom of the Year” or “Best Season Long Performer.”  The last award of the growing season is “Last Bloom of the Year.”  Sometime in November long after a hard frost, there is still some little single perennial flower that had several bees visiting it.  Most years it is blue Scabiosa, but Borage is putting up a last-minute burst into bloom.  Who won the last bloom of 2016 in your habitat?

Photos:

http://monarchbutterflygarden.net/are-native-only-wildlife-gardens-starving-fall-pollinators/

http://diet.yukozimo.com/what-do-honey-bees-eat/

Ask Me Anything

Gardening Tips

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