Morning Garden Meditation

by Sandy Swegel

Yesterday afternoon the musical ditty stuck in my head was new rendition of “Grandma got run over by a Reindeer.”  The music was the same but the lyrics were “I got dive bombed by a Hummingbird.”  I was minding my own business weeding a lovely rock garden bed of yellow columbine and tall red Firecracker penstemons when I heard a loud motor coming down suddenly from the sky nearly skimming my head, and then accelerating up straight into the sky.  It was like one of those old war movies on TV where the fighter pilots zoom down on their targets.  I actually jumped up and moved because I have been dive bombed by stealth crows before who actually hit me in the head when I had the nerve to walk in their territory.

An “Ah Ha”moment washed over me when I suddenly saw the garden from a bird’s eye view.  If I were a bird flying 200 feet overhead, I would have spied the beacon of bright red spires of the penstemon sticking up inviting me for lunch.  Then at the last moment before reaching the delicacy, a big old ugly human 1000 times my size was in the way who needed to be removed before a meal could enjoyed.  Hence the effective tactic of dive bombing.

Still it was all rather odd…so naturally I Googled “dive bomb by hummingbird” and found this was quite a common phenomenon. Male hummingbirds fly 100 feet up into the air and then dive down easily reaching 60 mph.  As they pull up just before hitting ground (or me) they experience 9 Gs, a force of gravity that would make human pilots black out.

Wow.  It was a good thing I got out of the way. About three minutes later I saw the hummingbird happily visiting all the penstemon blossoms, eating away.

So my garden meditation for today is once again “Look Up!”  My garden isn’t just the patch of land I see at my feet.  It reaches hundreds of feet above my head where birds and trees and insects dance in the wind.

Photo credit:

drdanslandscaping.blogspot.com/2012/05/our-favorite-spring-annuals.html

 

Wildlfower seeds for sale

Heirloom vegetable seed

Pollinator mixes

 

 

 

What I Learned About Peas this Year

What I Learned About Peas this Year

by Sandy Swegel

Two friends each planted a pack of peas back in March and lovingly watered and tended them while I watched.

One garden produced 5 glorious pounds of pea pods and made the gardener, a cook, very happy.  The other garden grew 12 spindly plants that have put out about 10 pea pods…and made the gardener very happy because they were her first ever peas.

Here’s what I learned.

Soil does make a difference.
Both gardens had a heavy clayey soil. One garden was double dug and amended with natural fertilizer and  compost last year while the other just had the grass weeds removed. It’s true that peas improve the soil but if your soil is terrible to start with, you aren’t going to get many peas this year.

It’s OK if you forget to thin.
The prolific pea patch was never thinned and the whole packet of seeds went into one area.  Turned out OK.  More water was needed and careful trellising but all those crowded peas produced more than if they had been thinned.

The more you pick, the more new peas grow.
We kept the big pea patch well picked and those plants kept pumping out more. Those plants worked hard for their keep.

Of course the most obvious lesson is how many pounds of peas you get isn’t as important as how happy your garden makes you.

Wildflower seed mixes

Heirloom vegetable seeds

Pollinator mixes

 

 

3 Ways to Enjoy Gardening More

3 Ways to Enjoy Gardening More!

by Sandy Swegel

We had our first 100 degree day which always reminds me that I prefer to be a fair weather gardener and garden where it is cool and partly shady.  Sometime mid-summer, gardening can become a chore rather than a delight. So on that hot day, I thought about what I could do to revitalize my love of gardening.

Put Down the Phone.
Really.  I know we’re all addicted to our phones and incoming text messages.  Scientists say it’s an actual chemical addiction with little dopamine rushes every time the alert sound goes off.  But it also means you are only half conscious in the garden.  How can you learn to listen to the fairies and devas if you’re always on the phone?  Or how can you see the early signs of pest infestations or the amazing tiny native pollinators if you’re not fully present.

Show the Garden to Someone Who Knows Nothing of Gardens.
City folk or small children are good subjects.  You’ll find out what you love when you’re doing show-and-tell to your garden newbie. You learn your attitude to dandelions has softened when you find yourself explaining that dandelions are the first foods of the year for bees.  And those caterpillars you might think of as pests….you love lifting the leaves to show off their hiding places. Your love of the mystery and surprise of nature shows up when you introduce a garden to someone new.

Forget that you know the difference between Plants and “Weeds”.
Every few years my town has an artists’ garden tour where we visit the homes and studios of local artists.  These artists have gardens with incredible detail to shapes and textures and color combinations.  They are often inexperienced gardeners but rather just using the green growing things as another medium in their art.  They don’t know that pretty purple flowers are thistles that should be yanked.  And uncut grassy weeds look nice blowing in the wind in their minds.  If you forget everything you know about plants and just walk around your garden looking at the pretty colors and textures and how the shapes look against the sky, you’ll have a whole new love for your garden.

Photo Credit: http://20minutegarden.com/2011/06/28/garden-advice-a-phone-call-away/

http://www.liveluvcreate.com/image/weeds_are_beautiful_too-123094.html

Heirloom vegetable seeds for sale

Wildflower seed mixes

 

Hooray for Hummingbirds!

by Cheryl Soldati Clark

Hummingbirds may be cute little winged creatures, but really they are tough as nails! These extremely important pollinators have the highest metabolic rate of any other animal on earth. They also have a high breathing rate, high heart rate and high body temperature. Their wings flap up to 90 times per second and their heart rate exceeds 1,200 beats per minute. In order to maintain their extremely high metabolism, hummingbirds have to eat up to 10-14 times their body weight in food every day for fuel. In preparation for migration they have to eat twice this amount in order to fly thousands of miles.

A huge portion of a hummingbird’s diet consists of sugar that they acquire from flower nectar, tree sap and hummingbird feeders. They also have to eat plenty of insects and pollen for protein to build muscle. Hummingbirds cross-pollinate flowers while they are feeding on nectar because their heads become covered with pollen and they carry the pollen to the next bloom as they continue to feed. Several native plants rely on hummingbirds for pollination and would not be here today if it wasn’t for these efficient pollinators.

Hummingbirds are found in several different habitats, including wooded and forested areas, grasslands and desert environments. They also occur at altitudes ranging up to 14,000 feet in the South American Andes Mountains.

The male hummingbirds are usually brightly colored while the females are dull colored in order to camouflage them while nesting. Female hummingbirds rely on males for mating only and after that, they build the nest and raise their young as single parents. They have been known to fearlessly protect their young against large birds of prey, such as hawks and have even attacked humans that get too close to their nests. They usually lay up to two eggs which hatch within a few weeks. Hummingbirds can live 3-5 years in the wild, which varies by species, but making it through their first year of life is a challenge. Fledglings are particularly vulnerable between the time that they hatch and the time that they leave the nest. Larger species may live up to a decade.

In order to conserve energy at night, because they lack downy feathers to hold in body heat, hummingbirds enter a state of semi-hibernation called “torpor”. This allows them to lower their metabolic rate by almost 95% and also lower their body temperature to an almost hypothermic rate. During this time, hummingbirds perch on a branch and appear to be asleep. When the sun comes up and starts to warm the earth, it takes about 20 minutes, but the tiny birds will awake from their torpor state and start their feeding rituals.

Planting a lot of reds and purples in your garden and hanging hummingbird feeders around your yard will attract and help feed these little pollinator friends. In fact, BBB Seed has a Hummingbird Wildflower Mix specifically designed with these little guys in mind.  Please help to support these amazing creatures in your own backyard!

Hummingbird Favorites:

• Penstemon
• Columbine
• Delphinium
• Autumn Sage
• Four O’clock (Mirabilis jalapa)

• Scarlet Monkeyflower (Mimulus spp.)
• Texas Sage (Salvia coccinea)
• Chuparosa
• Ocotillo
• Tree Tobacco (Nicotiana glauca)
• Baja Fairy (Calliandra californica)
• Bottlebrush
• Desert Willow

• Scarlet Gilia (Ipomopsis aggregata)
• Lantana
• Agave
• Lily of the Nile

FUN LINKS:



Video on Hummingbird Tongues

Hummingbird Coloring Pages for Children

Wildflower seed mixes

Wildflowers for pollinators

Bee flower mixes

 

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.  (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

 

 

Honey Bees vs Native Bees

by Rebecca 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

Pollinator flower mixes

Heirloom vegetable seed

Wildflower mixes

 

 

Bumblebees Love Purple

by Sandy Swegel

I visited one of my favorite suburban lawn alternative gardens yesterday.  It’s a true pollinator’s heaven of nectar and pollen, right on a neighborhood street. Full of perennial gaillardia and rudbeckia, and reseeding annual larkspur, cleome and sunflower, the garden uses about the same amount of water as your average lawn.

Bees were everywhere.  Neighbors stop by in wonder at what can be done with a front yard instead of plain old grass.  In the median strips in front of the flowers, kales and lettuces produced greens for the neighbors. This time of year, gaillardia and rudbeckia are dominant with their yellows, oranges and reds.  But something different this year was a plethora of purple larkspur.  Curious, I  asked community urban farmers Scott and Wendy about the variation.  They and the landowner are all careful  gardeners, unlikely to throw in something different without a reason.  Scott explained matter-of-factly, “Well it’s for the bumblebees. They prefer purple.”  I was skeptical since I see bumblebees all day on different colored flowers.  He assured me they had watched the field the last couple of years. The bumblebees always went for the purple flowers.  And walking on the path, huge fat bumblebees were on the purple larkspur, gorging away.

I couldn’t resist a little more research and sure enough, studies in Germany showed that baby bumblebees preferred purple flowers. Purple flowers are thought to contain more nectar than other colors and that baby bumblebees who chose purple flowers had a better chance of survival…they then passed the purple preference onto their offspring.

I’m not sure what most peaked my curiosity this day….I loved learning that bumblebees like purple flowers best.  But I think I was more intrigued by Wendy and Scott just noticing all season that the bumblebees liked one particular color.  In the end, though, I’m most impressed with the bumblebees who somehow got the humans to plant their favorite food.  Very clever bees.

Photo credits:
http://phenomena.nationalgeographic.com/2013/02/21/bees-can-sense-the-electric-fields-of-flowers/

 

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, dispersing 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.

Bats 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

Beautiful Bat photos

Bat Facts

 

Wildflower seed

Heirloom vegetable seed

 

Stalking the Wild Monarch

by Sandy Swegel

It’s Show and Tell time.
It’s time to take the kids or some curious adults outside and prove your superior knowledge of the ways of nature and introduce them to butterfly eggs.  It’s been a good milkweed year in the wild this year. Lots of spring rains followed by warm days has made the perfect home for milkweed plants.  Milkweeds are growing in my garden and along roadsides and ditches.  If milkweed plants are fully grown…mind are in tight bud about to bloom…you can walk up to almost any plant and look under the leaves and find little tiny white monarch butterfly eggs.

Milkweed plants, asclepias, as you probably know are the ONLY host plant for the monarch butterfly.  The butterfly lays her eggs on the underside of the leaves. The eggs hatch hungry little larvae that chew up the leaves.

The larvae get big and fat and eventually form a pupae, also on the underneath side of a milkweed plant.

Finally, “ta da” a monarch butterfly emerges.

I have two favorite kinds of milkweed plants in my garden.  The “showy milkweed” Asclepias speciosa with the big pink seed head you’ve seen in fields, and “Butterfly weed” Asclepias tuberosa which is my favorite because it’s bright orange and looks good in the dry August garden next to the black-eyed susans.  It also makes a great picture to see a Monarch butterfly on one of the orange flowers.

Monarchs are happy to choose either of these two “milkweeds” or any of the other more than 100 different species of milkweeds around the world. So you can pick the flower you like and grow it in your own garden. Grow it and the monarchs WILL come.  I’ve had good luck with fall or winter direct sowing of the seeds that easily grow into blooming plants the next year.  After that, they reseed themselves gently.

Video links
http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_profilepage&v=9Q2eORu1hP8


http://www1.teachertube.com/viewVideo.php?title=Monarch_butterfly_laying_eggs_on_milkweed&video_id=51640

And, just in case there are any monarch butterflies out there that don’t know how to do this, there’s an instructable!

http://www.instructables.com/id/Monarch-Butterflies-Egg-to-Butterfly/