Pollinator Week 2014

Seven 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 & 16 garden centers/stores from Fort Collins, Boulder, Denver & Colorado Springs are teaming up to celebrate National Pollinator Week! We will have a Pollinator Table set up at all 16 locations during Pollinator Week June 16-22nd with pollinator literature, brochures, pollinator wildflower mixes and more. On Saturday, June 21st from 10am-2pm, some of the garden centers listed below 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:

• Fort Collins 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

Locations in the Denver area include:
• Country Fair Garden Center- Colorado Blvd

• Nick’s Garden Center & Farm Market
• Tagawa Gardens

Locations in Colorado Springs include:
• Phelan Gardens
• Rick’s Garden Center

 

Is It Time?

by Sandy Swegel

Is it too late?  Can I still plant seeds?  These are the questions I heard this week.  In our Zone 5 area, garden centers are already starting to discount plants and seasonal workers will get laid off by the 4th of July. Does that mean it’s too late to plant seeds and you should just buy the biggest plant you can find?

Generally, the answer is, of course, there is still time to plant seeds…It’s only June!  For gardeners, the truest answer is always, “It Depends.”

There are a few seeds that it is too late to plant. In Zone 5 or other short growing season areas, it’s too late to plant watermelon or winter squash or tomatoes by seed.  The “days to maturity” info on the back of the seed package tells you that you need 90-100 days before the plant makes its first ripe fruit.  100 days from now is mid-September before you might get a watermelon…that doesn’t work when we might have frost by then…or at the very least cold nights.

The flip side of this question is, “Are there seeds I should plant rather than buy plants?”  Absolutely.  It makes no sense to buy a broccoli or cauliflower plant now for $4.00 when it’s just going to bolt in the summer heat.  It likes cooler weather.  And you could probably buy the broccoli itself cheaper.  But in a couple of weeks, market farmers are starting their broccoli seeds to get their fall crops going. Planting broccoli and cauliflower soon is a great idea!

Annuals are still a great bargain to plant.  I went into sticker shock when I went plant shopping this year.  Plant prices are up about 30 percent in my area.  For less than the price of a 4-inch pot with a marigold, I can get one seed packet of marigolds and have dozens and dozens of plants in bloom in only 45 days.  They’ll be super cute all over the garden and in the vegetable garden, they’ll help repel pests.

It’s the same for cosmos and California poppies and zinnias and all the annual wildflower mixes.  There’s still time.  For perennial seed, some plants might not bloom till next year, but the plants will be strong and it’s a lot easier to start seeds now in the garden where you want them to grow instead of inside under lights in the middle of winter.

Buying bedding plants is great for instant gratification, but gardeners know that if you want a garden full of hundreds of flowers (without breaking the bank), SEEDS are the way to go!

So there IS still time. Lots of time for annual flowers like cosmos and zinnias and sunflowers and bachelor buttons and zinnias and for big flowery herbs.  Then there all those vegetables to seed.  And the perennials you are admiring in bloom now. You get the idea. There is plenty of time to plant by seed and enjoy them this year.

 

Heirloom vegetable seed

Wildflower Mixes

Pollinator mixes

 

Make Your Own Mud Puddle

by Sandy Swegel

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 birdbath 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.

 

 

Pollinator mixes

Heirloom vegetable seed

Wildflower seed mixes

 

Buzz Pollination

by Sandy Swegel

We love pollinators at BBB Seed and we keep learning how many kinds of pollinators there are beside honeybees.  There are all the native bees and the moths and the flies.  Yesterday’s comely pollinator in my garden rounds was a giant bumblebee that was rather drunkenly going from iris to iris.  A bumblebee can be very big and noisy.  I could hear its buzz from several feet away. It was a delightful way to be digging weeds on a sunny day.

I wondered about the loud buzz and big hairy size of the bumblebee.  A little Googling later and sure enough, the buzzing is an important part of the pollination. I love how this bee pollinates. It has its own kind of pollination: buzz pollination.

The bumblebee flies up to the flower and literally grabs onto the flower tubule and starts to vibrate up to 1000 times a minute.  All that vibration makes the loud buzz.

Botanist Mario Vallejo-Marín wrote in a fancy scientific journal about buzz pollination: “The bumblebee has to hold on because the vibrations are so strong that otherwise, it could come flying off the flower.”

Wow.  Just to make the process even more dramatic, the bumblebee maximizes its pollen pickup by using its hairy body to create static electricity as it flies. As soon as that bumblebee hits the pollen, say hello to static cling.

Bumblebees remind me of Tim Allen’s old TV show Home Improvement.  Tim always wanted “More Power” when working in his shop.  The bumblebee has “more power”! Its little motor generates a powerful electrostatic field.  Then its bee vibrating motor sends pollen flying everywhere which effortlessly clings to its hairy body like Velcro.

Gotta love how clever nature is.

Photo Credit: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bumblebee

 

Hummingbird Moths aka Sphinx Moth, Hawkmoth or Hornworm

by Sandy Swegel

When we think of pollinators, we think of bees and butterflies, but one of the larger groups of pollinators are moths.  They go from flower to flower looking for nectar and their hairy faces and bodies pick up lots of pollen that get taken to the next flower.  Most people think about moths just when they notice the moths flitting around the porch light at night, but gardeners see moths all the time without even realizing it.  The little white “butterflies” around our veggie garden are cabbage moths.

One of the most intriguing moths in the garden is the Sphinx moth or hummingbird moth.  It hovers especially over flowers, especially at dawn or dusk, looking for super sweet nectar. Most people think it’s a hummingbird the first time they see one.

Unique Facts

They are the only moth that “hovers” over flowers like hummingbirds do, fluttering their wings rapidly while they “drink” nectar.  This is why they are called “hummingbird moths.”

They can fly very fast, up to 30 miles per hour. They can also fly swooping down as hawks do. This is why they are called “hawkmoths.”

They are big. Their front wingspan can be eight inches and their proboscis (for feeding) can be 10 inches.

They are more active at night but you can see them during the daytime too, especially around twilight.

They find their flowers from a distance by their scent.  They love sweet-smelling flowers.  Once close up, the use their vision to find white or light colored flowers. They often feed on the same flowers by night that the hummingbirds use during the day.

The weirdest thing about the hummingbird moths is that their larval form is a hornworm. Gardeners see them most often as the dreaded tomato hornworm.

They get their name The Sphinx moth because the larvae will raise the front portion of their body up when you disturb them, causing it to resemble the Egyptian Sphinx.

Flowers that are Pollinated by Hawkmoths:

Evening Primrose
Moonflower
Azaleas
Four O’Clocks
Peonies
Bee balm
Honeysuckle

These amazing hawk-sphinx-hummingbird moths are so useful in the garden, that now I have to let some of the tomato hornworms live just so I can have more moths around. Yikes.

Extension Fact Sheet about Hawkmoths

How to Start Mothing

Pollinator of Month

Slow Motion Video of Hawkmoth

How to Rear Sphinx Moths