The Aster

The Aster

by Sandy Swegel

July is when the aster begins to shine in the garden.  We were walking around a hot drought xeric garden yesterday where many flowering plants were going to seed (ah, flax and larkspur we miss your blues already) or had complete browned and been cut back (goodbye poppies).  Amid the browning foliage, there were splashes of color we forget about each year like the amazing Zinnia grandiflora, a very short aster, native to plains and foothills, that thrives along hot concrete walkways.

 

Standing near this tiny aster, we could look up to the back of the garden where there was a bit of shade and moisture and see tall asters in full bud.  In the sunny grassy open space nearby, purple asters had already bloomed and were feeding pollinators and butterflies. We looked to a neighbor’s irrigated garden and saw a splendid patch of Michaelmas daisies ready to bloom with hundreds of flowers.  Aster may have small individual flowers, but they cram dozens of flowers onto each flower stalk.

 

Asters aren’t very picky about location and in cities, you’ll see they seed themselves into alleys and sometimes into your flower beds.  In fields, the purple asters often grow one plant here and one there out among uncut grasses.

The very best thing about asters:  butterflies love them.  And we definitely want to keep the butterflies happy.

Photos and information:

http://swbiodiversity.org/seinet/taxa/index.php?taxon=1961

http://2.bp.blogspot.com/

http://gaiagarden.blogspot.com/2011_10_01_archive.html

https://photoflurries.wordpress.com/2010/09/

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/

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.

Mexican Hat Plant … Ole’

by Sandy Swegel

What’s your favorite wildflower? When I ask that of people in Colorado, I often get answers like Columbine, a delightful airy flower found in the mountains. But when I go into people’s gardens and see what they actually grow, I often find the wonderful yellow and red Ratiba columnifera that some call Mexican Hat plant or Prairie Coneflower.

Anyone who has driven in the prairie has seen massive fields of these red and yellow flowers growing among the grasses.  This one to two-foot-high wildflower is perennial and sometimes doesn’t bloom until its second year. But once it starts blooming, it gives color and repeats blooms from midsummer to Fall. It does need some cold stratification for good germination. Everything else about the wildly hot-colored plant is easy. It grows in terrible soil. It will tolerate drought. Deer don’t like it. Ratiba likes sun but handles quite a bit of shade. It looks great mixed with grasses or in a summer garden with Black-eyed Susans and Purple Coneflower.

If just being cute and a sturdy plant isn’t enough, Ratiba is also an important food for native bees.

The only problem I have with this plant is getting the Mexican Hat Song out of my head!

 

http://www.bromeleighad.com/2013/08/prairie-coneflower-naturally-dyed-yarn.html?m=1

Two ways to have more birds in your yard

by Sandy SwegelPurple Coneflower Seeds

I was chatting with a local bird habitat specialist hoping for some tips on what I could plant or build that would attract more birds to my new garden. I was surprised as she struggled to think of flowers that might work. Then she blurted: “The biggest obstacle to birds in the garden is the humans.” If the humans would just quit “improving” the garden, more birds would automatically come.

Don’t deadhead so much.

She elaborated, the first most important thing to do for birds is to quit deadheading so much and leave the seed heads of spent flowers on the plant so the seeds can mature. You can do some deadheading to keep your plants making more flowers, but especially at the end of the plant’s season, you need to leave the seeds on. I used to throw the seed heads into a corner of the garden near a bird feeder, but I learned that birds don’t like to eat off the ground unless they are desperate. They like to land on the top of the seed stalk and bend over and pull the seeds out one by one. Up on top of the plant, they feel safer from predators and can fly off at a moment’s notice.

04.15.16c

 

Learn to Tolerate Some Pests04.15.16d

The other mistake gardeners make that discourages birds is being too diligent about getting rid of all the pests and larvae in the garden. Leaving some pests may damage a few plants, but birds need caterpillars and bugs in the spring to feed their hungry babies. A pest-free garden is not a healthy habitat. And you won’t have to worry about the pests overtaking your garden in most cases because the birds are going to eat them!

So to attract more birds to your garden, let your garden look a little more unruly. I did get a couple of plant ideas of seeds birds particularly like: coreopsis, sunflowers, coneflowers and cosmos are all seed heads that birds consider especially yummy.

04.15.16

 

 

 

 

 

 

Photocredits

rachelinthegarden.wordpress.com
animalstime.com/what-feed-baby-bird-what-feed-baby-birds/
audubonportland.org/about/events/hidden-habitats
birdnote.org

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

 

Spectacular Flower Arrangement

How to make your own Spectacular Flower Arrangement

by Sandy Swegel

Valentine’s Day is upon us and flowers are the highlight. A flower arrangement from a florist is magnificent but costly. You can pick up affordable flowers at the grocery and turn them into a work of art.

Here are some secrets florists use.

Start with foliage

Place your vase or container on the counter. The first step is to arrange foliage in the vase to create a foundation for your arrangement. By first filling the vase with greenery, you then have a structure to put the flowers in. Greens can be typical ferny foliage or leaves from houseplants or even small branches from trees.

Cut your stems
You want to give everything a fresh cut for two reasons. One, you want different heights of flowers and greens and you want a new cut to help the flowers and greens take up water. Florists use a very sharp knife and cut on an angle to maximize the cut stem area. Strip the leaves from the very bottom of the stems that will be submerged in water. Those will rot and cause your flowers to spoil sooner.

02.12.16 'arrange grocery store flowers'

Insert your big faced flowers
Now you put the dramatic flowers in. Give them enough space so they can be seen from different directions. (all the way around if the flowers are a centerpiece or facing mostly front and to the sides, if the arrangement will be against a wall) It helps a lot to just keep rotating the vase between flowers. You can criss-cross the stems to hold the flowers in place. Vary the height of the flowers by cutting stems taller or shorter.

Put in smaller flowers or filler flowers
Now you can mix in your other smaller flowers or wispy fillers like baby’s breath. Keep their height slightly lower than the bigger flowers…like the big flowers are rise above clouds. Let some of the smaller flowers and foliage spill low over the lip of the vase for a softer fuller effect.

Put a ribbon on it
If you’ve used a plain glass vase, wrap a pretty translucent ribbon around it and make a bow. This both hides the water and stems and gives a lovely finishing touch.

Now that you have a beautiful arrangement, keep maintaining it.

You can use floral conditioner or just give your flowers a fresh cut and fresh water after a few days or when the water looks cloudy. Toss out the wilty, slimy things and slightly rearrange if necessary. A good arrangement that isn’t allowed to rot will last well over a week. Even then, you can salvage the last sturdy flowers for a tiny bathroom vase.

Flower arranging is really easy and creative. It’s a skill Montessori schools teach to preschoolers!

Happy Valentine’s Day!

 


Photo Credit
http://www.realsimple.com/home-organizing/gardening/gardening-flowers/flower-arrangements
http://www.thehappierhomemaker.com/2015/01/how-to-arrange-grocery-store-flowers/

http://www.naturalbeachliving.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/01/toddler-flower-arraingement.jpg

 

Heirloom Vegetables

Wildflower Mixes

Grass and Wildflower Mixes

Leafcutter Bees are Great Craftswomen!

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

Carrot love

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 dandelion season!

by Sandy Swegel

Let them grow, let them grow, let them grow.

Warm sun after a winter rainy day means dandelions arise from the deep and fill the neighborhood with bright yellow cheer. In the olden days, gardeners might panic at the sight and rush out with their dandelion digger (imagine how primitive people used to think….making a tool for the sole purpose of killing one kind of plant).

Kids were the first humans to know that dandelions are our friends. They brought in freshly picked flowers for their moms or blew dandelion puffs all over the yard. But we adults have learned to love, love, love dandelions.

 

Because our friends the bees and lots of other critters love them.

Bees love dandelions.
Dandelion flowers are the first food for bees. There’s not much to eat yet in Spring and a field of dandelions is the bee-equivalent of an all-you-can-eat Sunday buffet. And it’s not just the dandelion nectar the bees want….it’s the high protein pollen that really fills the bees up. Paleo bees.

Birds love dandelions.
Birds love the high protein seeds, especially little larks and finches who will spend hours tugging the seeds free.

Bunnies love dandelions.
At least if they’re eating dandelions, they’ll leave your crocus alone.

 

Humans love dandelions.
Think foraged greens and flowers on salads.

You know who else likes to eat dandelions? Bears do. It’s not uncommon in Alaska to see bears in the meadow eating dandelion heads! Wow.

What a great day. Dandelions are in bloom!

Photo credit: http://juneauempire.com/local/2012-06-19/dandelion-dinner
www.123rf.com/photo_3133074_the-word-bee-spelt-in-dandelions-on-grass.html
www.arkive.org/american-goldfinch/carduelis-tristis/image-G137972.html