Six Reasons to Grow Borage

Borage Gardening Tips

by Sandy Swegel

  1. Bees love borage

Bees absolutely cover the plant when it is in bloom.  And bloom lasts a long time and repeats throughout the season.  Bees and other pollinators seem to prefer it to other nearby plants.  Must be extra tasty or sweet.

  1. Borage is super easy to grow

My neighbor lets her’s grow along her alleyway against chain link fence.  No water, no fertilizing….just run off from the grass and a bit of shade.  When the plants go to seed, she throws the seed heads a little further down the fence line.  Even in our arid climate, that’s hospitable enough for borage to grow.  No deadheading or fussing…just lots of plants. It’s is supposed to be an annual, but it acts like a perennial….plants grow back in the same place every year.

  1. Birds love borage

Borage makes a lot of flowers and seed heads.  In the Fall, the birds were hanging out on the sunflower heads nearby and I didn’t notice them in the borage.  But this Spring morning, about eight of those little birds that chatter so much in spring were digging and rooting in the borage patch.  Bird food in February is a good thing!

 

  1. Borage is edible for humans

The young greens can be added to mixed salads or steamed. (Older leaves are too hairy and not so yummy.)  The little flowers are adorable in salads. Pastry chefs candy the flowers for decorating desserts.

  1. Borage is medicinal. It has long been a medicinal herb for skin diseases, melancholy, diabetes and heart conditions. Borage oil is an important anti-inflammatory.
  2. And the number one reason to grow borage: They’re Blue!!!!!

OK, that’s the real reason I grow borage.  Blue flowers make me so happy and the blue of borage is one of the most amazing blues in the plant kingdom.

 

Photo Credits:

http://medicinalherbinfo.org

http://shop.gourmetsweetbotanicals.com/

http://kiwimana.co.nz/borage-good-for-bees/

A Little Dirt Won’t Hurt

Leave a bit of dirt to shelter native bees!

by The Bees Waggle

Last week I wrote about the importance of adding forage (flowers) to your yard.  Shelter is another provision can easily met for various species of bees.  Keeping native bees is very simple, just add a few things to your yard, and sit back and watch the changes occur!

70% of native bees nest underground, and the others nest in plant material, whether it be hollowed out stems or dead wood.

Ground nesting bees will look for bare patches of soil or sand, and begin digging tunnels.  These tunnels will then soon be filled with many egg cells developing into adult bees destined to emerge the following spring.  It is ideal they are able to find nesting sites near food, as most native bees do not travel far from home to collect nectar and pollen (most only fly between 200-1500ft to forage).

Providing shelter for these ground-burrowing bees is simple! Just leave soil bare; under bushes, trees, and other plants.  Skip the mulch and watch residents occupy those spaces.

 

Twig-nesting bees nest is in hollowed out stems or deserted holes.  Easy ways to provide shelter for these bees is to have a bee house with reeds or wooden trays/blocks with appropriate sized holes for them to nest in.  You can also leave stems which are naturally hollow until the following summer, to ensure any nesters emerge before you remove the dead plant material from your landscape.

 

Other bees will nest in dead wood, by carving nesting holes into it, and using sawdust to partition individual egg cells from each other.  So placing logs in your garden, near flowers would be wonderful for these bees.

 

Some additional provisions include mud, sand, and leaves.  Many bees will love a pile of dirt, as they will use mud to create partitions between egg cells, such as is displayed in the image below. Other burrowing bees may prefer a sand supply to partition egg cells, which would also look very similar to the image below.

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Others might use half-moon shaped pieces of leaves or pedals from surrounding lilac bushes, peonies, or rose bushes to form egg cells as seen below.  Not to worry, your flowering plants will be okay despite the missing pieces of leaves; these bees only take exactly what they need, and this never equates to a destroyed plant.

 

Adding shelter for native bees doesn’t commit you to any more beekeeping activity than you already do.  Providing shelter is an essential part of sustaining, and even boosting, native bee populations. Once you have taken the steps to add forage and shelter, you can sit in your yard and enjoy the activity of these interesting species from spring to fall! 

Cheers to an essential movement to save our bees!

Jess

Planting Wildflowers

Grow a Wildflower Meadow!

by Sandy Swegel

This blog post is for anyone who wants to grow wildflowers.  It is especially dedicated to BBB Seeds’ friends at the Rockies Audubon Society who have an awesome program called Habitat Heroes that encourages “wildscaping” your garden with native plants that attract pollinators and birds and support wildlife even in an urban area.

  • Deciding What and Where to Grow

Look at the site where you want to grow a wildflower meadow or patch.  An ideal site would have sun and good drainage and not too many weeds. Nature seldom provides what we consider ideal. So the next step is choosing the right mix of wildflowers.  We help by providing mixes for unique conditions such as sites that are dry or sites that shady.

  • Prepare the Soil

TX-OK-1oz

Some don’ts:

  • Don’t deep till!

That’s the number one rule….unless you are planning a year ahead of time.  There are enormous numbers of weed seeds in any soil and tilling up the soil brings up all those weed seeds to the light and they start to grow.  You do have to deal with weeds and you will lightly till/scratch in a shallowly.  But this is time to leave the tiller in the garage.

  • Don’t use weed killer

Especially don’t use the weed killers for your lawn or those with pre-emergents that stop new seeds from germinating. Those will have long-lasting effects that will thwart your wildflower growing efforts.

  • Weeds:

You will have to deal with weeds especially if you have an area that is pretty barren of other vegetation.  People have good success with putting down black fabric or cardboard weeks ahead of time to suffocate the weeds.  For big hunkin’ weeds like dock, it’s good to get the shovel out. You can’t get all the weeds, but after you put your seeds out, you won’t be doing any weed-pulling for a while because you’ll accidentally pull the new wildflowers or disturb their young roots. Replacing weeds with wildflowers will be an ongoing process.

  • Scratch and Rake

You do need to break the soil and rake it smooth, but not more than 2-3 inches deep.  You want little crevices for the seeds to slip into so they have a cozy home.  I’ve had the best success by loosening that top couple inches of soil and waiting a couple of weeks for all the weeds to germinate. I then scratch up those weeds, rake again, and then put the wildflower seed out.

  • How Much To Plant

One ounce of seed (a small packet) plants about 100-150 square feet.  (eg 10 feet by 15 feet.)  Follow this rule of thumb.  Planting more than this makes the plants choke each other out.  Planting less gives weeds free run.

Expert Tip:  Mix some sand with the wildflower seed to make it easier to spread the tiny wildflower seeds evenly.  About four parts sand to one part seed.

 

  • When to Plant

If you live someplace mild and humid, you can plant almost anytime.  The rest of us either plant in the Spring (about one month before last frost date) or Fall.

  • Water

That’s the biggest challenge for many.  If you aren’t living in the above mentioned mild and humid area, you need to be sure the wildflowers get enough water.  One gardening buddy said her secret was to go out and seed the night before a big snowstorm and let the melting snow help.  I personally use row cover over the area to keep water from evaporating.  I also use a soft rain nozzle to hand water over everything.

Our website has a Resources Section with more detailed instructions on seeding wildflowers. https://bbbseed.com/wildflower-grass-tips/

 

That’s really it.

Pick an appropriate wildflower mix.

Get rid of the huge weeds and prepare the top couple inches of soil.

Plant.

Water.

Wait for Nature to do What She Does Best: Create beauty for you and food for all the wild creatures.

 

Before and After Pictures are some of my favorite things.  The Habitat Heroes program has awesome before and after pictures that will inspire you:

Photo Credit:

http://rockies.audubon.org/get-involved/habitat-hero-winners

A Parking lot median at the West View Rec Center in Westminster, CO, before and after

02.15.16 'Planting Wildflowers' WestViewRecCenter

02.15.16 'Planting Wildflowers' WestViewRecCenter2

 

Bees Need Flowers

by TheBeesWaggle

IMG_1621

Clover depends on bee visits to reproduce seeds.

Why Bees Need Flowers

75% of all flowering plants rely on pollinators to produce seed and or fruit. Without insect-assisted pollination, many of the colors we enjoy in the natural landscape would disappear.

1/3 of the food humankind consumes has been produced by bee pollination specifically.  That is upwards of 70% of the produce , including, but not limited to apples, pears, berries, tomatoes, carrots, onions, and many more!

The Earth’s landscape is becoming less and less capable of sustaining the life of bees, which means there are less and less bees raised to adulthood.  Bee populations survive by raising young bees to adulthood.  The number of bees in the next generation depends on how many flowers bees can visit, and how much pollen they can bring back to the nest for their young. Simply put, bees need flowers.

Due to the green landscape, lacking flowers for bees, bees are forced to travel miles to find food.  These long distance trips sometimes leave bees exhausted and shorten their lifespan, which also lessens the nest’s potential for producing a healthy new generation of bees.  Honeybee populations are known to be struggling, but are not the only bees in need of more resources to survive; there are over 4000 native bee species in North America and Canada, and 20,000 native bee species worldwide. Some native bee populations are rapidly declining and nearing extinction. They are some of the best pollinators on the planet!  Farm fields and orchards located near wild areas (containing healthy forage and habitats for native bees) produce more fruit than their monoculture surrounded counterparts.

Monocultures are acres and acres of one crop with no other plant mixed in. These monocultures are like a desert to bees flying in search of pollen and nectar from flowers. Given the fact that wild areas help improve crop yields, there should be more floral landscapes mixed into farmland.  If not for bees, for aesthetics. Who wouldn’t want to see more flowers in a green landscape?

What is good for the native bee is also good for honeybees, butterflies, birds, and even bats! The point is to bring balance back to the landscape so we can coexist with the wild species we have pushed into smaller condensed areas by destroying habitats. It isn’t sustainable for them, and in the long run it will also destroy us.

Imagine 70% of the grocery store’s produce section empty!  Imagine creating meals short of things like tomatoes, garlic, onions, and so many more.  This is the reality that will become us if we don’t take action and begin bringing back pollinator habitats to all landscapes.

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This meal would only contain steak without bees.  That’s a sobering illustration! It could be “dressed up” with a glass of wine, right? Nope, wine doesn’t exist without bees either!

The simplest way to help pollinators is to add flowers to your own yard. Whether you swap out your entire front lawn for flowering plants or place a few pots out containing a variety of flowers, you are making an impact. The less distance a bee must travel to forage, the better.

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The flowers behind the rhubarb plant were grown from seed that same season, and produced beautiful blooms far into the bitter cold of Fall.

The flowering plants you plant shouldn’t contain pesticides, so look for organic seeds and plants.  When in doubt about whether a plant is organic or not, air on the side of caution, and don’t plant it. Pesticides weaken and kill bees and other pollinators.

Organic flower seeds are inexpensive and very successful at producing a bounty of beautiful flowers, which will likely return if you have a healthy bee population pollinating them all season. Planting a variety of flowering plants will attract all kinds of characters to your yard. You will enjoy seeing a variety of beautiful pollinators paying their respects to your floral buffet!

 

If you are really feeling zealous and want to invite bees to stay in your yard, you can provide a variety of nesting options.  Ground nesting bees like open soil, or piles of dirt to dig into and form nesting holes.  Wood nesting bees love tree stumps, and tree stumps are aesthetically pleasing amidst the garden.  Twig nesting bees like pithy plant material, containing hollowed out centers. They also like blocks with pre-drilled holes of different sizes (0.25-0.5″; 6″ deep) to choose from.  Bumblebees might like a nesting box built just for them containing wooly material, or even old bird’s nesting material.

 

We at The Bees Waggle value all of our followers, and look to you to reach more people and motivate them to simply plant more flowers! Together we can make a real impact on this problem.  We plan to remove all of our front lawn and replace it with flowering plants and places for our bees to nest. I am so looking forward to the photos and experiences this transformation will afford!

Cheers to joining the movement to save our bees!

the-bees-waggle-99-design

Leafcutter Bees are Great Craftswomen!

All About Leafcutter Bees

by TheBeesWaggle

 

Any name with cutter in it seems frightening, but I am here to redeem these Leafcutter Bees of such a stigma by bringing understanding through education.

Leaf-cutter bees are another native species of bees found in most parts of North America. They are smaller than a honeybee, and have darker stripes paired with pastel yellow colored stripes across the abdomen.

The scientific name for this species is Megachilidae, and their name says it all, they do cut leaves for a purpose. They get their name from the way they use pieces of leaves to form egg cells which they then store in long, hollow cavities.  They use a glue-like substance from glands near their mouths to sew pieces of leaves together, which they have carved from leaves of lilacs and other broad-leafed plants. The shape is that of a half-moon, and the size of the piece they take is very consistent. They only take as much as they need, never destroying the plants from which they take the leaf fragments.

.Leafcutter Bees

Half-moon cuts on my lilac bush.

Leafcutter Bees

A row of beautifully crafted nesting cells from my leafcutter bee house.

Leafcutter bees are a solitary breed, like the mason bee. This translates into a more docile creature with nothing to defend but her life. So the only time she would sting would be to defend her life, and this is a rare occurrence, making her a very welcoming guest in your own yard!  I have spent many minutes peering into the nesting blocks while these busy bees fly in and out going about their nesting business.  I never once felt threatened by them, and in fact, felt ignored, entirely!  This is also true of the nature of mason bees.

However, unlike mason bees, leaf-cutter bees will do their own excavating of soft rotting wood, or holes in thick stemmed plants, and in any conveniently located crevice.  They also like having conveniently located nesting blocks with inviting holes as well, and we had success with them nesting in ours this summer! Nesting blocks need protection, so they must be paired with a nice house, and we have many options!

Like mason bees, leafcutter bees are very good pollinators compared to the honey bee.  One leaf-cutter bee can pollinate at least what 20, and even up to 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.

Finally, leaf-cutter bees do not make honey, but they cultivate quite the production of food sources through their fierce pollinating efforts, and it would be foolish not to recognize this talent useful to us as humans. Like the honeybee, leafcutter bees, along with all other species of bees, need our help!  Become a great host to these fascinating creatures, along with other species of pollinators, by setting up a complete habitat for them next Spring!

Leafcutter Bees

Leafcutter Bees

Excellent Pollinators

by Sandy Swegel

There’s a native bee (especially in the Western US) that you’ll rarely recognize flying around, but almost everyone can tell when the bee has been in their garden. Leaves, especially of roses, have perfect little half-moons cut on the edges. The cuts are better circles than most of us can draw. In most years there aren’t overwhelming numbers of cutter bees so they don’t really threaten the plants.

 

Leafcutter bees don’t eat the leaves. They take them to make nests for their babies. Unlike honey bees which live in hives, leaf cutters are solitary bees, and the leaves are used to make long tubular cigar-looking nests. Each bee egg gets its own little room, complete with a gob of saliva, some pollen and some nectar for when the larvae grow in the Spring.

Some people think leafcutter bees are pests and want to exterminate them. Others want to attract them to their gardens because they are excellent pollinators. I’m on the side of letting them happily live in my rose garden and cut their perfect little half moons. They are gentle bees and rarely sting. Cute and good for pollination.

 

Photo Credit and Info:
http://www.ext.colostate.edu/pubs/insect/05576.html
http://www.missouribotanicalgarden.org/gardens-gardening/your-garden/help-for-the-home-gardener/advice-tips-resources/pests-and-problems/insects/bees/leaf-cutter-bees.aspx
http://swampthings.blogspot.com/2012/05/leaf-cutter-bee-nest.html
http://rachel-the-gardener.blogspot.com/2011/08/leaf-cutter-bees.html

Straw in the Garden: Be Careful!

Straw May Be Killing Your Crops

by Sandy Swegel

Straw bales are one of my favorite garden tools.  They are useful to the gardener in so many ways.  All nicely tied up, straw bales are like giant Lego blocks that can be stacked to make so many things. I’m using the term “straw” bale, but old “hay” bales have the same great features.  Three bales make a great compost bin.  A row of bales makes excellent walls that double as sitting places.  Open the bales up and you have the perfect mulch to keep strawberries or squash off the ground or to make a path protected from mud.  Give the chickens one bale and an hour later they have spread it evenly over the coop floor in their pursuit of worms or food in the bale.  A square of bales with some plastic thrown over is an excellent cold frame.  And I haven’t even begun to touch on the usefulness of bales as a fort.

So it was distressing this week to be reminded that we can no longer just trust the wonderful bales that we scavenged in the past because modern agriculture has rendered hay, straw, and even the gardener’s best friend, manure, unsafe for growing food.

This conversation came up because tomatoes are very sensitive to herbicide damage.  The most common cause of herbicide damage extension agents used to see was from “herbicide drift” where chemicals sprayed nearby go airborne and are spread by the wind onto your garden.  But my experience this week was with tomato plants, a very susceptible plant – sort of the canary in the mine.  After considering dozens of diseases from virus and fungus and bacteria that might be stunting a friend’s tomatoes and keeping them from setting fruit, we had to face the likelihood that the culprit was last year’s straw that was liberally mulched throughout the garden.

Hay and straw become hidden poison bombs in the garden when farmers use the new generation of weed killers (that are very effective on weeds) like Milestone or Forefront or Curtail.  Milestone is aminopyralid it is a very persistent killer of broad-leaf plants.  Farmers like it because it kills weeds and because unlike other weedkillers, they can feed treated pasture to their animals without any waiting time.  The label says clearly that while animals can still feed on the pasture, the herbicide survives being eaten by the animals, and it survives composting.  So even year old hay that you’ve composted or nice old manure from free-range animals on pasture still has enough herbicide in it to kill your tomato crop.

The bottom line is you can’t just get straw at the feed store or old hay or manure from a neighbor’s barn to use in your garden unless you know how the original pasture was treated this year and last year.  It’s another sad but true example of the destructive environmental impact even small actions such as applying some weedkiller can have. And it’s not even just the farmer who has to take care.  Grass clippings are a gardener’s favorite mulch…and some of the new weed killers or weed and feed products contain these long-lasting poison time bombs.  It’s easy to want to kill some thistle…but you have to read the very tiny small print to see if you are destroying your own garden by using the organic practices of mulching with grass or hay or straw that generations of gardeners have sworn by.  It’s not your father’s straw bale anymore.

http://www.ces.ncsu.edu/fletcher/programs/ncorganic/special-pubs/herbicide_carryover.pdf
http://www.motherearthnews.com/Grow-It/Milestone-Herbicide-Contamination-Creates-Dangerous-Toxic-Compost.aspx

Carrot Love

Heirloom Vegetable Seeds

By Sandy Swegel

 

I was noticing very happy pollinators this week: honey bees and native bees, tiny flies, lacewings.

And the air was abuzz with hummingbirds and their look-a-likes sphinx moth. Noticing that pollinators were all around is the first step. Then I looked for where they were gathered….because that meant I had somehow (accidentally) created a habitat that they loved.

The best habitat of the day was a patch of carrots abandoned last year in the back of the garden which had entirely gone to seed. There were dozens of different kinds of happy flying beneficials on it. It was at a slightly wet end of the row so that helped. I’ll never pull the last carrot again. What I didn’t know until this week is that carrot flowers are pale pink. Very sweet in a big patch.

 

I like to leave carrots in the ground in winter. I eat them until the ground freezes because they get sweeter and sweeter each day. Then I’m happy for them to get frozen solid because many of them turn to mush and by the time I dig them in early spring, there are writhing masses of earthworms feast. But the carrots that don’t turn to mush, make beautiful flowers their second year.

There was another surprise areas abuzz yesterday. I headed out to a patch of fallen lambs ear that looked spent. From a distance, the flowers were all brown. Lambs ear are beautiful and drought tolerant, but they will seed everywhere. I was about to pull out fifty or so plants that barely had any flowers left…but the bees had a strong opinion that they wanted the last of those flowers. So one more week for the lamb’s ears. I know they’ll drop seeds. But the bees had the final say. Everything for our bee overlords.

 

Photo Credits:

blog.growingwithscience.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/10/carrot-flower-pollinators.jpg
www.craftsy.com/blog/2015/07/texture-plants/

It’s a Bug Eat Bug World

Beneficial Insects

by Sandy Swegel

I met a new bug this week. And really a bug…an insect scientists call a “true bug” but whose common name is “Assassin Bug”! Someone on an email list caught a picture of the assassin bug eating a bee to which my first response was “Poor bee.”

But the is the way of the insect world. All the creatures we call “beneficial insects” are beneficial because they eat bugs we don’t like. Ladybugs eat all those aphids for us, and we cheer them on. We love the predators that eat thrips and whiteflies or all the beetle eggs on squash. We’re so happy to see the insects we like eating the babies of the insects we don’t like. But sometimes the top predators aren’t too picky and they eat bees and ladybugs and butterfly caterpillars too. Fortunately, they assassinate many more bad bugs than good bugs.

The bugs at the top of the food pyramid have some great names like assassin bugs or pirate bugs They are still beneficials in our book because they are eating lots of the bad guys. Of course, they happily eat cute ladybugs and even their own siblings when they are ravenous after hatching. Keep an eye out in your garden for some of these more interesting creatures.

Beneficial Insects with Great Names:
Assassin Bugs
Pirate Bugs
Predatory Stink Bugs
Big Eyed Bugs
Damsel Bugs

See this link for more on these predators. http://insects.about.com/od/insectpests/tp/top10beneficialinsects.htm
Photo Credits
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/earth/earthpicturegalleries/9927514/Bug-eyed-macro-photographs-of-insects-by-Ireneusz-Irass-Waledzik.html?frame=2508309
Vickers Myers

It’s Caterpillar Time!

Beneficial Insects

by Sandy Swegel

Protect our friends. So many butterflies in our area have laid their eggs and their baby caterpillars are getting big and fat and chewing up plants. Be sure you know who your friends are before you squash any of them! You’ll love having the butterflies.

Swallowtail caterpillars
I found these this week, not on the dozens of dill plants I planted for them but on a leftover parsley from last year. Next year, more parsley.

Monarch caterpillars
Also yellow stripey…they look a little more serious. I’m watching for these now. Quite a few eggs on the milkweed plants I let take over part of the back garden…so I’m hoping

Painted lady caterpillar
I almost never see these although I see lots of the butterflies. Skinny little black prickly caterpillars. Their host is the Malva family like thistles or hollyhocks.

Cabbage looper
Well, this is one you’re probably seeing a lot of right now. Cute little white moths fluttering everywhere. Bright green little loopers inching along devouring your cabbages. If you want cabbages, you have to treat these as pests.

 

 

Photocredit:
lagbchbutterflies.weebly.com
www.monarch-butterfly.com
wildones.org