Tomatoes: What to do When There are Problems in Paradise

by Sandy Swegel

OK so only gardeners think of their tomato gardens as paradise, but what a grand time of year this is.  In some places tomato growers are boasting about having ripe tomatoes before the 4th of July. Here in Colorado after a long cool spring, we’re just happy to see them thrive in the heat.  But with tomato plants comes the anxiety over pests and diseases.  Aphids are having a banner year and everyone is fearful of the psyllids that fly up from Mexico or the early blights/late blights, middle of season blights.

A friend with a bunch of kids compares growing tomatoes with having kids.  Parents are so worried about the first-born—you call the doctor at every sniffle. You watch the kid constantly, fearful that impending disaster awaits around every corner.  My baby sister wails that when you’re the last kid you have to practically be on fire to get mom’s attention.

As the first born, I am greatly amused by this.  But this is no way to grow tomatoes. You’ll go crazy if you try to treat or prevent every affliction.  If you can remember last year’s garden, you’ll remember similarly panicking over tomato problems in the beginning of the year.  But by September, you had to see the tomato plant in distress from the neighbor’s house two yards over before you thought, “Gee, maybe I should check that plant, the next time I am pulling buckets of tomatoes off of it.”

Most of the time your tomatoes survive the diseases and pests that come at them.  Your job is not hypervigilance, but simply creating the best environment to make them strong.

• Good Air Flow. Air circulation is one of any plants best defenses against disease and pests. Space your plants so they aren’t all crowding one another so that if one tomato does have a problem, it doesn’t instantly spread to everyone else.  The market farmers here help air flow on larger plants by pulling the leaves off of the bottom six inches of plants so fungal spores don’t splash up on the plant.

• Adequate and Consistent Water.  Tomatoes thrive when they can count on their soil being evenly watered…and not going through dry as dust or swamp cycles.  Put a soaker hose on a timer if you have trouble remembering.

• Food.  As I’m sure you’ve heard before, tomatoes are heavy feeders.  If you planted in a big potting hole full of compost or manure and natural fertilizer, that might be enough. Otherwise, you’re going to have to do some feeding to get the big crop of tomatoes you want.

• Tolerance. Most pests of tomatoes resolve themselves.  Flea beetles leave their shotgun holes all over the leaves, but the plant outgrows them.  Aphids fester, but in a pesticide-free garden, the lady bugs will usually show up a few days later. Or you can use the garden hose to spray them off. For more serious diseases like viruses, there’s not much you can do this season (just like antibiotics don’t treat colds.) You can pull the plant if it’s dying and start deciding where you’re going to rotate the tomatoes to next year.

• A little bitty bottle of Dr. Bronner’s. Dr. Bronner’s is pure castile soap and available in little bottles for $2.  Mix a couple of drops with water in a spray bottle and that’s enough to treat most pests and fungal disease. Don’t overdo it.  And don’t go to the store to get all the chemicals to kill those pests that just end up killing your soil and you.
• Look at websites about tomato diseases.  If you have a healthy environment with air and food and water for your plants and you still see disease you worry about, go in and research it.  With any luck, the internet will suck you in and soon it will be dark and it’s too late to do anything today. By tomorrow you’ll forget and by next week your tomatoes will be pumping out tomatoes so you won’t worry anymore.

So just pretend tomatoes are your last kid. You love them just as much and you give them everything to grow healthy and happy and strong, but you don’t hover.  Relax and watch the miracle of tomatoes happen in the paradise of your garden.

 

Black Swallowtails

by Sandy Swegel

I’m very proud of my mama.  At 80+ and on oxygen 24 hours a day, she’s still making valiant efforts to keep her brain functioning.  She led a busy life, but now that’s she’s older and can’t get around easily without oxygen tanks, she is learning to observe what is in front of her.  Today she called me very proudly and announced that she had found five huge caterpillars on her dill plant in her tiny courtyard garden down in New Orleans.  She was never a gardener but at this point in life she loves watching butterflies through the window and had watched over the last few weeks wondering why the butterflies were all over the dill plant.  She called because she wanted to know what would happen next and what she should do or not do.

I pretty much said do nothing except maybe to make sure the cat kept the birds from eating those fat plump caterpillars.  And then I googled and found these great pictures of what’s going to happen.  She’s going to have to look around because the butterflies might make their home on some sticks or weeds or even under tiny fountain.  She’s promised to take pictures…but photographer Bob Moul made a great website about what you should look for if black swallowtails are all over your dill, parsley or fennel. http://www.pbase.com/rcm1840/lifecycleofblsw  It only takes a few weeks from huge caterpillar to new butterfly!

Usually it’s the very young and the old who have the wisdom to notice nature’s miracles like butterflies…but I’m going to check the dill and parsley too. If you don’t have time to stalk your dill plants, here’s an awesome time-lapse video of caterpillar to butterfly!  The first part of the video is all about frenzied eating.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TrowLvvmmds

Photo Credits: http://greengardenground.com/about/http://www.pbase.com/rcm1840/lifecycleofblsw

 

Going the Extra Mile for Pollinators

by Sandy Swegel

You know the basics for saving bees and other pollinators:

- Create a native plant wildflower habitat that provides season-long sources of pollen and nectar.

 – Provide a water source if a natural one is not available.

 – Stop your own use of pesticides that affect bees.

Just doing those three things will do a lot to invite pollinators to your yard and give them safe harbor.

This week, I’ll be posting about people and organizations who do even more…who go the extra mile for pollinators, sometimes with the simplest measures.

Winter Feeding Pollen Patties My neighbor Kathy has kept bees and for many years on a large suburban lot and like many beekeepers has endured the increased death of hives in recent years.  Going into this winter, she was very pessimistic about one of her hives that had almost no honey stores.  Since she had lost healthy hives in the past, she wasn’t too hopeful about a weak hive.  However, she found a new product for feeding bees in winter….rather than just putting out sugar water, she fed her bees Winter Pollen Patties. She used a product by Dadent and simply put the flat sheets of pollen substitute right on top of the bees.  When this Spring turned into a disaster for pollinators (multiple late freezes meant no spring blossoms on trees, a significant source of food for bees and other pollinators), Kathy continues to put the pollen patties in her hives.  Both hives are thriving the best she has seen in years.  And both hives are making babies.

It wasn’t a lot of work to go the extra mile of feeding bees in winter.  You have to learn to think about beekeeping from a bee’s perspective:  What does the bee need to eat?  The protein of pollen, not just sugar.  Just like humans can’t survive on soda.

Once you get your pollinator habitat growing, start thinking about what the next extra mile is you can do for pollinators in your garden.  Perhaps it’s nesting sites for wild bees. Perhaps it’s educating a neighbor about pesticides.  Let’s share our knowledge about what are the extra things that make a difference.

For more info on scientific methods for feeding bees in winter, check out “Scientific Beekeeping” http://scientificbeekeeping.com/fat-bees-part-2/

For a video on how to feed pollen patties:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cBZCL33fNHY

Photo credit: http://mudsongs.org

 

Honey Bees vs Native Bees

by Becky Hansen

Bees are one of our agricultural industry’s most important resources and indeed one of our planet’s most important resources, and the survival of the human race is in the hands of the pollinators The pollinator issue is a hot topic these days, but, there is more to pollinating a crop than meets the eye.  There is great complexity in the relationship between the bees and the plants in an agricultural setting.  The needs of the plant species and the pollinators must match up pretty closely.  When it is all working together everybody benefits!  The farmer has successful crop yields and the bees are happy, healthy and well fed.  The flower structures, pollination method, pollen size and shape, nectar content are just some of the plant qualifications that a bee species looks for when ‘shopping’ for food and nectar.

Some bees such as the European Honey Bee (Apis mellifera) are polylectic which means that they will be able to find good food sources from many different plant species.  That is why a wildflower mix of several species is really great for the Honey Bee, as the time when nectar and pollen sources are available is lengthened.  Other bees are oligolectic, like the Alfalfa Leafcutter Bee (Megachile rotundata), that is very picky about the plant species that it chooses for its nourishment.  In fact, these bees primarily like alfalfa.  The Honey Bee has specialized pockets on its hind legs where it stores the pollen which it then takes back to the nest for food storage.  The Leafcutter Bee has special hairs on its front where it collects the pollen that is used and stored in the nest where the eggs are laid.  The honey bee is a social bee in that it lives in colonies with males and females with differentiated duties.  This allows for the nests to be collected and moved to various crop locations.  The leafcutter be is a solitary bee in that, after mating, all females, individually, collect pollen and nectar and build their own nest for eggs and protection. But because they prefer to build their nests in close proximity to other leafcutter bees, they can be lured to man-made nests and can also be transported to other crop locations.

Both of these bee species are so different from each other but both are commercially used to pollinate different crops for just that reason.  They don’t compete with each other for the resources available. Take a bit of time to learn more about the pollinators in your pollinator gardens and look at the flowers that they most frequently go to for food.  Find out their ‘favorites’ so you can plant more of those.  All l those hardworking critters are “‘busy as bees” helping to ‘save the human race’ by making food and agriculture products for you and me.

Watch a movie on setting up a new Honey Bee hive: http://youtu.be/tqjP3-6prwM Great learning video about the lifecycle of bees: http://youtu.be/sSk_ev1eZec Watch a Leafcutter Bee making a brood cell: http://youtu.be/EjsZ419lmMY Making a Leafcutting bee house: http://youtu.be/chCu-pQxpB0

leafcutter bee photo: http://www.ars.usda.gov/images/docs/14415_14609/ALCB1.gif

 

How to get your Neighbors & Friends Interested in Pollinators

by Sandy Swegel

You have finally come to understand how important pollinators are and why we need to protect them.  One of the challenges we who value pollinators face is how to educate other people to care too.  Unfortunately, we’ll start to ramble about how bad chemicals are or how GMO crops harm the environment and if we pay attention we’ll notice our listeners’ eyes are glazing over and they’re looking for a quick exit.  Even with other people interested in the same topics, it’s not long till people get that bored “You’re preaching to the choir” look. When you’re passionate you want other people to be passionate too, and maybe take to the streets in pursuit of your cause…but that rarely happens.

So what can you do to educate others about protecting pollinators?  I’ve learned a lot from watching Niki, a member of our garden group, over the years.  Over time she had inspired many people to put in pollinator habitats or at least to stop pouring chemicals on their lawns.  And she did it without preaching.  So taking inspiration from her over the years, here’s an action list on how to gently inspire others to protect pollinators and the environment.

Make a demo garden in your front yard.  It was a slow start for Niki.  She lived in a typically suburban neighborhood and her decision to turn her front yard from perfect green grass to a xeric native habitat caused some upset in the ‘hood. At first people thought she was bringing property values down with all those weeds.  But she kept the garden tidy and explained every plant she grew to anyone who stopped by.  She invited the kids over to watch butterflies.  She explained to people who asked why she was doing what she did.  Her friendly attitude and a “come pick out of my garden anytime” attitude built relationships.  Neighbors on their mowers noticed they were out doing yardwork every weekend and she wasn’t.  Then she started to tell people how much money she was saving by not watering the lawn and using chemicals.  That changed a few people’s minds. She added in the info that you could protect your trees without the expensive sprays the tree companies wanted to do. Soon the whole neighborhood was just a little more pollinator friendly.

Teach the kids Kids have open minds.  Have an inviting garden with butterflies everywhere, and kids will stop to look around.  They’ll ask questions and they’ll tell their families about the cool stuff they learned today.

Give away free stuff. It’s pretty easy to collect seed from native plants, or to put seed you have in little envelopes to give away.  People in the neighborhood learned they could get free seeds for lots of low-water flowering plants if they stopped at Niki’s.  They also learned they could get free plants.  She started seeds in her living room or dug up self-seeding plants and put them in tiny pots and gave them to anyone who would learn how to take care of them. Soon, that’s native food sources up and down the block.

Offer Free Public Classes Soon the neighbors had all the free seeds and plants they could use.  So the next step was to offer free classes to the public. Our library offers meeting rooms for public groups for free so soon Niki was offering 2 hour Saturday classes on “Chemical-free gardening” or “Make your own natural cleaning products.” Another 2-hour Saturday project was the free Seed Swap in January which invited everyone to bring their extra seeds and swap with one another.  Gardeners meeting other gardeners is often all it takes.  Lots of people came to classes because they wanted to save money or have a safer environment for their kids.  They all left with that info and with an understanding of why chemicals can really hurt bees and other pollinators and how there’s an easier way to do things.  Not preachy…but well-researched information.  A heart-felt story about the impact of pesticides in Kansas on monarch butterflies all over the world helps people want to do the right thing.

Be generous with your time to talk to others Soon gardeners and community members learned Niki and now her gardening circle friends would come talk to their neighborhood association or school about native bees and butterflies.  Or they’d look at your suffering tomato plant and suggest a natural home-made remedy.  Everyone got on an email group together and ended up teaching each other about natural gardening and making homes for pollinators. Local media people saw the library classes and now had someone to call when they needed a radio show or newspaper article.

Photo Credits:

www.huffingtonpost.com

www.valleyviewfarms.blogspot.com

 

Make Your Own Mud Puddle

I’m always in search of how to do things more easily and efficiently in the garden. Once again today I was at the garden center eavesdropping and heard a typical customer question: ”What should I plant to get pollinators to my yard?” The answer the garden center owner gave surprised me.  I was expecting a list of bright colorful flowers that were good sources of nectar and some host-specific plants for butterflies. Instead, I heard the best and simplest answer to this common question: “There are lots of good plants to use,  but the most important thing you can do is provide a good source of water.” He then elaborated that it couldn’t just be a bird bath or water fountain…it needed to be shallow and ideally have the minerals pollinators crave.

So the quick and easy way to get LOTS of pollinators to your yard is to make mud puddles.  Or if you’re a bit tidier, a water sand bath.

Any way to get small puddles of water will work. You’ve seen this when flying insects gather around a dripping spigot, or when there’s a ledge in your water feature that water flows slowly over. In nature, pollinators gather along the edges of streams and lakes.

To mimic nature, take a plant saucer and fill it half with sand and fill with water to just over the sand.  The sand is the source of minerals and gives an easy surface to rest upon.  Bees especially will drown in deeper water.  To make it extra nice, sprinkle compost over the sand to add extra nutrients.  If you’re out in the country, a nice flat cow patty will do the trick…Put it in a big round plant saucer and add water.

If you’re in a very dry climate like me, the water evaporates much too quickly in hot weather.  The customer I was eavesdropping on at the garden center had a burst of inspiration: “I’ll put one of my drip lines in it so when I water the plants, the “puddle” will get water.”

A less elegant solution is to take a one gallon water bottle and put a pinhole in the bottom and place it on some bare soil. Fill the bottle and water will drip out slowly keeping a mud puddle going.

I’ve put out an attractive saucer with sand, and a water bottle over bare dirt to see which works better.  So far, the plain wet dirt is winning when they’ve got a choice. Now why do I suspect they’d probably like the wet cow patty the best.

 

Bugs are Our Friends

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 really are our friends.  Not every one 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.

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

 

It’s National Pollinator Week!

Six years ago the U.S. Senate’s unanimous approval and designation of this week in June as “National Pollinator Week” marked a necessary step toward addressing the urgent issue of declining pollinator populations. Pollinator Week has now grown to be an international celebration of the valuable ecosystem services provided by bees, birds, butterflies, bats, beetles, etc.

Often overlooked or misunderstood, pollinators are in fact responsible for one out of every three bites of food that we eat. In the U.S. bees alone undertake the astounding task of pollinating over $15 billion in added crop value, particularly for specialty crops such as almonds and other nuts, berries, fruits, and vegetables. Beginning in 2006, pollinators started to decline rapidly in numbers.

BBB Seed Company (Boulder, CO), The Colorado State Beekeepers Association, Northern Colorado Beekeepers Association, Boulder County Beekeepers Association & 12 garden centers/stores across Boulder & Larimer Counties in Colorado are teaming up to celebrate National Pollinator Week! We will have a Pollinator Table set up at all 12 locations during Pollinator Week June 17-23rd with pollinator literature, brochures, pollinator wildflower mixes and more. On Saturday, June 22nd from 10am-2pm, each table will have a beekeeper there to answer any questions adults & children may have about pollinators, planting for pollinators, protecting pollinators, etc! Come help us Celebrate, Honor & Protect our Precious Pollinators!
So visit your local nursery or garden center during Pollinator Week, pick up some seeds or flowering plants and learn about the vital role of bees and other pollinators!

Locations in Larimer County include: • Downtown Ace Hardware, Fort Collins • Fort Collins Nursery, Fort Collins • Fossil Creek Nursery, Fort Collins • Bath Garden Center, Fort Collins • Gardens on Spring Creek, Fort Collins • JAX Ranch & Home, Fort Collins • JAX, Loveland

Locations in Boulder County include: • Flower Bin, Longmont • JAX, Lafayette • McGuckin Hardware, Boulder • Harlequin’s Gardens, Boulder • Sturtz & Copeland, Boulder

 

Bats are Beautiful!

by Cheryl Soldati Clark

There are so many misconceptions out there about bats. Bats are not evil, blood-thirsty creatures that fly  around at night trying to get caught in your hair. Bats are graceful and fascinating nocturnal creatures, which benefit humans by pollinating plants, bats1dispersing seeds, and feeding on insect pests. In fact, we have bats to thank for pollinating over 300 species of fruits that we eat, such as, bananas, mangoes and guavas to name a few. These aerial mammals fly from sundown to sunrise, visiting flowers in the darkness and ingesting their sugary nectar and protein-rich pollen. They are also excellent pest managers eating up to 1,200 mosquitoes in one hour. A long-lived mammal, in the wild, bats can live for up to 20 years.

As pollinators, bats are attracted to green, purple and dull white flowers with very fragrant, fruit-like odor. They are also attracted to musky, fermented smelling flowers because they have an excellent sense of smell. They choose to feed from large, bell or bowl-shaped flowers (1-3.5 inches) that are open at night and have copious amounts of dilute nectar. The bat forces its head into the flower, trying to reach the nectar with its long tongue. Several species of night-blooming cacti are perfect candidates for bats to pollinate. Bats may eat the pollen, stamen and anthers of certain flowers while at the same time carrying large amounts of pollen on its face and coarse fur from flower to flower. Bats travel long distances every night thus making them effective cross-pollinators of plants that are widely spaced.

bats2Bats can be found in almost every part of the world except in extremely hot and cold climates. They live on all continents except Antarctica. You can find more species of bats where the weather is nice and warm. Bats like to roost in groups in dark and humid environments.  They also roost in different structures, such as, the underside of bridges, in caves, inside buildings, in cracks in between rocks, in mines, and in tree hollows.

Unfortunately, due to disease as well as human misunderstanding, many bat species are endangered and some have already gone extinct. Through the misuse of pesticides and habitat destruction, in the United States alone, nearly 40% of the native bat species are endangered. It is our job as human beings to protect these important pollinators by educating our children, friends and neighbors about the importance of bats and trying to eliminate the fear factor associated with these nocturnal mammals. Pollinator Week is a great time to start!

Great Bat Links:  A great video on how to safely & humanely remove a bat from your home

Build your own Bat House! Bring a Bat program into your School Other Bat links Beautiful Bat photos Bat Coloring Pages

Bat Facts

 

Connecting with Wild Nature

by Sandy Swegel

Our gardens are grand places to be.  Assuming we don’t worry too much about weeds. Here are our favorite flowers to make us happy. And over there our favorite tomatoes are thinking about ripening.  We may cultivate some wildness by planting a pollinator meadow but for the most part our own gardens are cultivated and maintained…a good thing.

But deep down, we human beings are also wild animals, yearning to connect with the Wild Nature of ancestral memory.  I went this week on a wildflower hike, just minutes from town, to be reminded of what plants looked like before they were tamed.  And maybe to feel like what humans felt before they were tamed.  I like to do a little nature hiking because unlike in my tended garden, in the wild I don’t know the name of every plant.  And I don’t think about how I have to pull the weeds when I’m walking in the wild. And plants don’t grow in shade or sun gardens but where happenstance put them — sometimes on the side of a boulder wall or the edge of a precipice.

I found this particular hike through meetup.com.  No matter where you live, if there are Meetups in your area, a search for “nature” meetup will provide you some great opportunities to explore wildness near you.  Our meetup guide in Boulder, Lauren Kovsky, took us on a public trail and while she did the basics of any wildflower hike of naming flowers, she clearly had great fun teaching us to interact with nature by using all our senses.  We learned to identify the ponderosa pine trees by smelling their butterscotchy bark. We learned to look at shapes and feel textures of flowers to remember their names.  Mouse ear chickweed did look like a bunch of mice in a circle looking up with ears perked.  Pussy toe ground covers felt soft just like cat toes.  After heeding admonitions never to eat wild plants without knowing exactly what the plant is, we formed strong memories of wild onions by biting the seeds, and recognized the Earl Grey tea taste of wild bergamot. Mints reminded us of summer iced teas and wild mustard flowers felt hot and spicy on our tongues.

Lauren’s philosophy of why we were on this hike made good sense.  She told us that people often go off to far-away oceans or jungles to experience nature.  They swim with dolphins and feel one with the sea.  But then they return home and once again feel disconnected with the natural world.  She recommends finding little wild areas near your home and experiencing them with all of your senses. Learn how they taste and feel and smell. If you watch how the high water flows in Spring and feel how the harsh wind blows in January and taste the tiny wild raspberries in Summer, you will remember that you are part of nature and that no matter where you go, you are always connected.

  Photo Credits:

Lauren’s website: http://www.thepathtransitions.com/ Sandy Swegel