Early Spring Flowers for Pollinators

Why to Plant These Wildflower Seeds

by Sandy Swegel

Hungry pollinators are starting to wake up. Well, maybe not this week in Colorado if they are smart. We still have a foot of old snow on the ground, but the sun will come out later this week and I expect to see the first crocuses poke out from the melting snow.

The first warm days of Spring bring out lots of our pollinator friends. In a long winter like this, honey supplies are running short and honeybees are eager for fresh food. Wild bees and bumblebees who don’t have honey stores are very hungry. Ladybugs that woke up a few weeks ago and have been eating aphid eggs in the leaf litter are eager for some sweet nectar or pollen. Everybody’s hungry and are flocking to the first flowers to gather nectar and protein. They need to build up their own strength and to provide food for Spring babies.

 

You can spot some of the first pollinators of the season if you look closely at the first Spring bulbs. Plan to plant more flowers for pollinators in your garden if you want to attract more. You can lure pollinators to your yard by having the first flowers. Then they’ll stay for the rest of the season if you have flowers in bloom all year.

 

Some of the easiest spring flowers to grow are:
Crocus
Snowdrops
Grape hyacinths
Daffodils
Tulips, especially native tulips.

Little bulbs like snowdrops and grape hyacinths re-seed themselves and naturalize a good-sized patch. If you don’t have these in your own yard, it’s easy dig up a few bulbs from a friend’s overgrown patch and transplant into your own garden. They don’t mind the transplanting too much and will bloom as usual…attracting more pollinators to your yard.

So bend down close to those little crocus flowers to see our pollinator friends. Bring a camera. The bees get groggy from gorging on pollen and are often moving pretty slowly, so it’s easy to get a good picture.

 

Photo credits:
Mason bee on crocus: http://www.earthtimes.org/scitech/saving-bees-new-pesticide/2612/

Bee on tulip: http://matthewwills.com/tag/honey-bees/

Bee on muscari and fly on snowdrop: http://urbanpollinators.blogspot.co.uk/2014/03/more-early-spring-flowers-for.html

To make your pollinator garden click here!

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A Valentine’s Day Gift for the Bees

Bee Love

by Sandy Swegel

Nothing like Valentine’s Day to make us think about who and what we love. If we look at the huge number of Facebook “likes” we get when Mike posts about bees or wildflowers, we know our followers have a special love for wildflowers and for the bees and other pollinators who feast on wildflowers.

So how about we all do something special for bees this Valentine’s Day and plant a special Wildflower Patch for them that is a food source both beautiful and safe. A wildflower garden can be a whole meadow or it can be a tiny corner of your garden. Size isn’t as important as a good source of food that’s grown from seed naturally.

 

We’ve written here before about the dangers of the neonicotinoid pesticides (now more easily named neonics.) The bottom line is that if you buy plants, it is likely they were treated with neonics at some point in the greenhouses where they are propagated and grown for sale. Neonics are good killers and control the aphids, mealy bugs, scale and thrips that plague crowded unnatural greenhouse conditions. It’s much for expensive for big growers to treat pests naturally when mass spraying of neonics takes care of the problem for them cheaply. The cost to the bees doesn’t factor into the budget.

But for bees, it’s starting to look like even small amounts of neonic residue left in plants can hurt them. See the link below for the Harvard study that found that healthy bees that were exposed to even sublethal doses of neonics were significantly less likely to survive winter.

The only way to protect the bees until neonics are outlawed here as they are in Europe is to make sure they have natural sources of flowers that are grown from seeds instead of from purchased plants. And the best plants to grow are the ones bees have evolved with: Wildflowers. Anyone who gardens that knows that Wildflowers are a real “if you plant it they will come” experience. Every pesticide free wildflower you plant will be covered with happy bees.

So our Valentine’s message is this:02.13.15-VDay-FB
“Bees, We Love you. We want to show you our love in a time-honored way humans have always shown love: we want to feed you lots of good food: the pollen and nectar from naturally grown wildflowers. We want you to be healthy and happy and share many more Valentine’s Days with us.”

Harvard study:
http://www.hsph.harvard.edu/news/press-releases/study-strengthens-link-between-neonicotinoids-and-collapse-of-honey-bee-colonies/
Photo credit:
http://www.sweetcomments.net/picture/valentines-day/bee-valentine.gif.html

Three Ways to Winter Compost

How to Compost in the Winter

by Sandy Swegel

 

Now that winter is setting in, what do we do with all our great food scraps?  My first winter in Colorado I decided to have a worm bin under the kitchen sink.  It actually worked great but some of my city housemates thought it was disgusting having worms inside the house in the kitchen.  I tried a worm bin in the unfinished basement, but out of sight, out of mind meant the worms got forgotten and went dry or anaerobic.  I know people who have success with keeping the worm bin in an unheated garage.

Over the years I’ve come up with three other great ways to have a successful winter compost.

Compost Bin in a Protected Sunny Spot.

I kept one of those square black plastic bins against the house on the sunny side.  It was just outside the kitchen door.  I started with the bin half full of partially finished compost that I had put lots of kitchen scraps in so there were lots of worms.  The center of the pile near the ground stayed thawed even when it was -10 degrees so the worms stayed alive.  The compost didn’t process a lot during winter, but on sunny days, it would crank up.  The only con of this was the year the raccoons discovered the bin with fresh food.

Hilled Compost under a Tarp.

The tarp keeps moisture and some heat in.  You just slip the food under the tarp.  Worms show up.  There’s the varmint issue and some mice do move in for the winter. Come Spring the pile is partially composted and giving the pile a good turn sets it to work.

Trenches in the Garden.

Our soil freezes solid in winter, so I can’t just dig the scraps into the ground.  One Fall I dug about an 18-inch trench where I was going to plant the tomatoes next year.  I left the soil in a pile on the far side of the trench.  All winter, I’d go with a bucket of scraps, pour them in the trench and pull frozen chunks of soil on top of the scraps.  Snow fell and watered and insulated the trenches.  Worms in the garden flocked to the food scraps in Spring and by May when I wanted to plant tomatoes, the tomato holes were full of mostly finished compost….which tomatoes LOVE.

What’s your plan?

 

Photo credit:

http://blog.gaiam.com/winter-composting-should-i-just-scrap-it/

http://calypsoftp.tumblr.com

 

1000 bags of leaves and what to do with them

How to Repurpose Fall Leaves

by Sandy Swegel

Fall leaves are Nature’s parting gift from the growing season to the gardener.  Tree roots run deep and wide and have collected minerals and nutrients from deep in the soil.  These are nutrients that then spent the summer high in the sky at treetop collecting sun rays and are now being placed abundantly at your feet.

If you’ve been gardening any length of time you know how valuable leaves are.  They decompose beautifully in the compost bin when mixed in with the green matter.  You can run them over with the mower to break them down and use them as mulch in all your garden beds.  You can keep piles of them in a shady moist corner of the garden decomposing down into leaf mold which is a superior soil amendment.

The most important thing gardeners in my neighborhood do within Fall leaves is collect them.  Our neighbor Barbara is the Queen of Fall Leaves and had taught us about how valuable leaves are to the gardener.  She lives on a busy street and puts a big cardboard sign in front of her house every year that says “Bagged Leaves Wanted.” Pretty soon bags and bags of leaves start piling up, brought from strangers all over town who are happy to have a place to recycle their leaves.  Barbara gets the first 1000 bags and about fifteen of us split the next 1000 bags of leaves.

So what do you do with 1000 bags of leaves?

Mulch the garden beds. Some of the leaves have already been chopped by blower vacs. These leaves easily go on perennial beds.

Mulch the garden paths.  Big dried leaves that are slow to break down like oak leaves or pine needles go on the paths to keep the weeds down.

Put a layer over the vegetable garden. If you don’t till in the spring, a thick layer of leaves will block light and suppress weeds and keep in moisture. But wait, you say, the wind will blow the leaves away.  That’s when you put the bagged leaves on top of the garden. It’s a place to store extra leaves and the weight of the bags keeps the loose leaves from blowing away. Moisture collects under the bags and earthworms come to feast there.

Till the molding leaves into the soil in Spring with the cover crop.

Insulate the cold frame or greenhouse with bags of leaves stacked around.

Line the troughs you dig for your potatoes next year with rotting leaves.

Make easy Leaf Mold.  Stack the bags that look like they don’t have holes somewhere (as insulation or just as storage) and put the hose in to fill the bag about ¼ way with water.  This makes speedy leaf mold.

Use as free litter for chickens and bunnies. If you have farm animals, dried leaves are perfect free litter for the bottom of the coop or cage. And the manure is already pre-mixed with carbon for composting.

Feed the Goats. The most fun thing to do with the leaves (aside from jumping in piles of them) is to feed the goats.  Apparently, dry leaves are yummy like potato chips to goats and they come running to eat the crunchiest ones when I’m hauling the latest bag of leaves to the backyard.

Happy goats running with floppy ears flying is a highlight of my day.

Photo credit:  http://www.onehundreddollarsamonth.com/mavis-garden-blog-how-to-find-free-compost/

The Ants Go Marching

The Journey of Seeds

by Sandy Swegel

Seeds have a big challenge this time of year. They’ve matured and are turning into the hard seeds we recognize in seed packets. Now their job is to disperse themselves near and far so they reproduce their species next year. This is a challenge because seeds have no feet for walking. So they have to get somebody else to do the work for them.

We know some of the most common ways that seeds get around. They get eaten by birds and pooped out in their next home. The wind takes some seeds and spreads them about. And then there are the workers who go a lot of trouble to disperse seed such as the humans who right now around the country are collecting seeds from plants so that we at BBB Seed can send the seeds to you.

Humans aren’t the only servants of our seed taskmasters. All over the world today, especially in woodland wild areas, ANTS are waking up this morning to disperse seeds. About five percent of flowering plants worldwide are dispersed by ants. There is a fifty-cent word to describe what is happening: Myrmecochory or seed dispersal by ants. Myrmecochorous plants coat their seeds with a fatty elaisomes (“food bodies” rich in lipids, amino acid, or other nutrients) that are excellent food for ants to eat and take back home for breakfast.

This is such an excellent survival method by the seed because the ants just eat the outside of the seed and then abandon the seed in the ant nest or under some nice decomposing leaves, slightly buried away from bird predators and covered with composting materials. A perfect place to germinate next Spring when temperatures rise.

So in my little part of the world, seeds on the move. Winds are blowing some. The birds are eating lots for winter. Some are being dispersed by the United States Postal Service delivering our seed packets. Squirrels burying bigger seeds in hidden treasure troves. And out in my neighbor’s garden where little cyclamen grow under pine trees, ants are lifting and pulling or pushing seeds across the yard down into their ant lairs. Right now I’m drinking coffee while little baby ant larvae are slurping yummy elaisomes all food of fats and sugars from the outside of the seeds.

The seeds. They’re enjoying the ride. They love to travel.

 

Best Wildflower Seeds

Heirloom Vegetable Seeds

Organic Vegetable Seeds

Grass Mixes

 

A Positive Twist on Garden Problems

How to Learn from Garden Frustrations

by Sandy Swegel

Gardening guru Elliot Coleman came to talk at the Denver Botanic Gardens last night. One message that he repeated consistently is that he doesn’t focus on problems but he does get excited to find solutions. One’s first thought might be, “Well he hasn’t seen my garden problems, then.” But as we asked questions about our problems, it was clear he was not someone burdened by problems in the garden.

One refreshing way to think more positively about the “opportunities for solutions” our garden gives us is how Elliot thinks about pests. He says, “Pests aren’t problems, they are indicators.”

In his greenhouse, for example, if he gets an aphid outbreak in January, he asks himself, “Why do I have aphids? What are they an indication of? What are they showing me about the health of my plants or soil.” In his cold greenhouse in January, there was often a Nitrogen buildup in the soil. He remedied that by starting irrigation even though the plants weren’t dry but because he wanted to wash away some of the nitrogen. And his aphid problem began to clear up.

For many of us who focus on getting rid of the problem…the pest, we don’t come to the solution that would have resolved the problem and we just have to keep getting rid of the pest.

So this year as you’re closing up your garden, or reflecting on the season, a list of problems is likely to come up in your mind. Re-phrase your approach and don’t think about the problems…ask your self what the problems are trying to indicate to you. Next time I see an aphid, I’m going to stop and ask, “What are you trying to tell me?”

 

 

 

 

 

Best Wildflower Seed Mixes

Heirloom Vegetables

Grass Mixes

 

 

Insects are People too

The Secret of Bugs

by Sandy Swegel

Midsummer is when I most enjoy sharing the magic act of the garden.   If any garden newbie shows the least interest in the natural world, I like to share with them one secret of the bugs we live with and teach why they are our friends and they have special reasons for being on our property.

This week the emphasis has been creatures. Children and city folk can easily be put off by “bugs” and want to kill them right away.  There are lots of bugs in August so I spend lots of time introducing the insect people who live with us, because after all, insects are people too.

Sister Squash Bee.

A neighbor saw a recipe online for squash blossoms so wanted to pick in the zucchini patch.  She came in rather alarmed, “I can’t get the blossoms because the bees will get me.” Sure enough, every single squash blossom had a single squash bee in it. I was delighted.  Squash bees are such unique pollinators.  So I introduced her to our neighbor and friend Sister Squash Bee and explained how to gently shake it out of the blossom before harvesting.

Brother Wasp.

There must be a wasp nest near our picnic table because small wasps have started showing up every time we start up the BBQ grill.  “Ack, get the bug spray”  was the terrified response one night.  I was able to achieve some peace by putting a piece of grilled hot dog on the table showing everyone how Brother Wasp just wanted some meat and wasn’t after us.

Cousin Spider.

The wolf spider seems a little early this year.  We had one child refusing to bathe because of the monster spider in the bathtub. I made the introduction to Cousin Spider who comes in looking for water and then can’t get back up out of the slippery tub.  I captured the spider in a jar and put it outside.  We then left a towel hanging in the tub so our other Cousin Spiders could climb out again when they came to drink in our drain.

Baby Butterfly.

The best magic trick this week is lifting the leaves of the milkweedsparsley and dills to introduce the baby butterflies.  Sometimes I just show the little egg nursery.  Other times, one of the toddler caterpillars is climbing the stem. It’s so nice having all the babies around.

The world of creepy crawlers is mostly not scary at all.  They are our friends and extended family who live with us and who we can happily share our home and garden with.  Now if only I could make peace with Crazy Uncle Cockroach who tried to move into the silverware drawer this week. Some relatives don’t know how to behave and just aren’t allowed in the house!

Photo Credit
greengardenground.com/2011/03/
jtwoo.blogspot.com/2013_08_01_archive.html

 

More Wildflowers

All About Wildflowers

by Sandy Swegel

The fields and meadows of the Rocky Mountains in Colorado are awash in wildflowers this year.  Lots of moisture in the Fall and Spring has turned our mountains into riots of color that started early and keeps going and going.  We, gardeners, keep playing hooky from our weeding tasks to hike along mountain meadows and enjoy the beauty of nature that doesn’t have to be weeded or watered.  We also get excited about how wildflowers make us very happy and we try to plant more of them in our gardens.

There’s a deeper story to the wildflower bloom.  It’s that we’ve actually been having longer wildflower seasons for years now.  I look at a good wildflower season as a reason to rejoice and do more wandering and hiking.  Scientists at the Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory looked out their windows in Crested Butte, CO forty years ago and said, “Hmmm. What’s that about?” “Let’s collect some data.”  So for the last 39 years, they sent out scores of graduate students to count wildflowers.  They recorded when the flowers first bloomed, how many flowers were produced, how long the flowering lasted, etc. Now many years later, the wildflowers are telling an important story about climate change.  Turns out we do have more wildflowers.  Almost a full month’s worth more.  The flowers bloom earlier in the Spring and last longer in the Fall.

It’s still too early to know exactly what it means that we have an extra month of wildflower season.  Clearly, this is evidence of climate change. But what it means is less clear.  We get the first bloom six days earlier than 40 years ago. That means birds and pollinators have food earlier.  But we still get the same number of flowers which means the actual amount of nectar hasn’t changed.

Up in Crested Butte, the scientists still look out and ask “Hmmm? What’s that about? Let’s collect some data.”  Graduate students still count the number of flowers in little 30 foot plots across the mountain.  A new study is putting tiny radio transmitters on hummingbirds to see how their feeding is changing.

Meanwhile, the wildflowers give us abundant beauty …and… hard data that climate change is happening, rather rapidly.

Photo Credit: www.constantinealexander.net/2014/03/rocky-mountain-wildflower-season-lengthens-by-more-than-a-month.html

 

My Squash is Wilting

How to Save Your Squash

by Sandy Swegel

Eww…Yet another bug thriving this year and ruining my food.  Most of us have experienced our squashes suffering from powdery mildew that coats the leaves white, but knowledgeable gardeners are perplexed here in Colorado by squash that suddenly completely wilts and dies.

Turns out if the squash is wilting it’s often due to a very small bug, the squash bug, that injects a nasty venom into the stems wilting and killing the entire vine.

“Can’t we just all get along?” I holler at them.  There’s an entire large squash plant and I’m willing to share with bugs….but the squash bug wants it all.

This is a pest you need to be aggressive with if you see it because it doesn’t share but will kill your whole plant given a chance. Look for the adult bug (looks a bit like a stink bug) or nymph (distinctive antenna and small head) and kill it (take a small bucket of soapy water into the garden with you and throw the bugs in, to drown them, if you don’t want to ‘squash’ them). More importantly look for the eggs on the underside of leaves and crush them.  Handpicking works well in a small garden if you’re vigilant.

 

We have to stand our ground against creatures like the squash bug. I explain it to them as I dunk them in the soapy water or throw them to my chickens….if you don’t share and play well with others, you lose your privileges in my garden!

For more info:
http://www.ext.colostate.edu/pubs/insect/05609.html
Photo credit: http://extension.entm.purdue.edu/4h/default.php?page=snr40&stage=larva

 

 

 

Bugs are Our Friends

Beneficial Insects

by Sandy Swegel

“Stop! Spiders are Our Friends” is the phrase I’ve been shouting lately.  A young teenage house guest has been alarmed at the wolf spiders (big but harmless to us) that seem to make their way into our bathtub.  I’ve been in another room in the house and heard a high-pitched squeal and a quick fumbling around for a weapon of destruction such as a shoe.  My house guest can’t help it…she’s grown up in a city condo and isn’t used to the wild ways of my semi-rural house. I’m happy she hasn’t noticed the cricket who happily lives beneath the steps by the water faucet.

Spiders and all kinds of bugs are our friends.  Not everyone of course, and I’m not suggesting you invite black widows spiders to live with you.  But I cringe when I am in public places and notice people enthusiastically killing bugs and spiders because they think they are bad.  Ants, in particular, seem to be the target of children who stomp on each one with glee.  Nearby adults usually take no notice because they think of crawly things as something to be destroyed.  The shelf space at the local hardware store devoted to weedkiller is matched only by the shelf space of bug killer.  Here at BBB Seed, we educate people a lot about pollinators and we’re especially protective about bees. But we also respect the other lesser known pollinators like flies and ants.  When we respond to crawly things as creepy and something to be feared and killed, we actually hurt the environment by disturbing the natural balance of insect life and the many creatures that work hard to pollinate our plants or eat the bad bugs.

One of my top garden rules…don’t pull any weed if you don’t know its name…applies to the insect world as well.  Don’t kill any bugs if you don’t know their name and what purpose they serve in your little ecosystem.  (Organic Pest Control)

This doesn’t mean I think your house has to be crawling with bugs.  Just as the garden has designated “no weeds here zones,” I think you can declare the house a “bug-free” zone. But the world around you doesn’t have to be bug-free.  And you can teach your friends and your kids the difference.  If you are killing an insect (more often I catch them with a glass and put them outside…it’s easier than cleaning smooshed bug), act with a clear purpose to remove it from your home not because all bugs are evil.

My rule for bugs is that they have to respect my space and play well with others.  No flies or ants in my kitchen, but ants and native flies outdoors are great pollinators.  A few aphids, or even a cabbage worm or two are fine in the garden because the predators usually come to eat them. But if the plants start suffering, the insects lose their right to stay. Aside from a few miscreants, most of the time the garden world is a zoo of beneficial insects.

Bugs are Our Friends.

Photo credit: www.newoaksfarm.com/how-we-grow-your-food.html
http://antsbeesbutterfliesnature.blogspot.com/2009_08_01_archive.html

 

Organic Pest Control

Wildflowers for pollinators