Swarm Season

A swarm of honey bees on the bottom of a rope swing.

Photo courtesy of pixabay.

by Engrid Winslow

Have you ever spotted a honey bee swarm on the eaves of your house, a fence post or in a tree? They have even been spotted on parked bicycles! Swarming is the natural result of a hive that has made it through the winter and ramps up for spring when pollen is available and nectar flows begin. The hive gets crowded and the bees raise a second queen and the older queen leaves the hive with about half of the hive population to find a new place to nest.

You SHOULD NOT do any of the following things:
1. Please don’t spray them with water or insecticides. We need to protect these pollinators, not harm them.
2. No need to worry about them attacking you. These bees are very docile and are just hanging out while scout members of the new colony are looking for a place to call home.
3. Don’t try to capture them unless you are an experienced beekeeper as you could harm the bees or lose the queen in the process.

Here’s what you CAN (and should) do:
1. Let someone know the location of the swarm. If your neighbor is a beekeeper it might even be their hive that swarmed.
2. Contact local beekeeper’s associations in your area. Many already have a swarm hotline up and running at this time of year.
3. If you can’t find a beekeeper, then call your local county extension agent.
4. Take photos! A bee swarm is an interesting phenomenon and you might not see one again for a long time.

Take a Listening Walk

By: Sandy Swegel

The skies were gray this morning.  The landscape was brown and dead.  I kept looking for Spring but at best there were just the green tips of bulbs appearing among dead leaves. Maybe the buds were swelling on trees.  It was cold, but it still felt like Spring.  How could that be?

The loud demanding chirping of some birds interrupted my thoughts and I realized I could HEAR Spring. So I took a walk to a nearby pond and while I couldn’t really see Spring…the pond scenery was just as brown as my yard was…but now I knew…nature is waking up.

I could hear the male birds in rapt mating calls…doing their best to make some new baby birds.  Lots of mating and birthing going on in Spring.  I could hear some tiny chirps that I think were baby sparrows or finches.  There was rustling in the winter leaf debris.  I couldn’t see anything but I could guess there were baby caterpillars and insects under there that the birds were scratching to find.  I suspect there were little mice in there too.  Which meant that snakes were waking up and slithering in the grasses.

There wasn’t much to see, but I could hear nature erupting in new life. Spring is noisy.   A nature walk in January is pretty quiet except for some chickadees and perhaps large animals running off, startled by a human invading their wild territory.  But Spring makes an absolute racket.  Even the water is noisy.  A week of warm weather had melted ice and brooks were babbling again.

Very early Spring is subtle.  I know from the sounds that new life is starting.  But it’s a slow lazy waking up.  Snow is coming later in the week and I’m reminded of the adage that March is the snowiest month.

The avid gardener has just a few tasks in early Spring.  One is to enjoy nature without having to work to weed or control it.  Another is to do some pruning while the trees and shrubs are still dormant.  But after a cold morning walk, the best thing this gardener can do is go inside and start some more seeds under the lights.  Outside, Mother Nature can call the shots.  Inside, I’m getting a head start on all those seeds that I want to grow now!

Photo credits:

cuddlesandmuddles.wordpress.com/2013/03/06/world-book-day-activities-taking-a-listening-walk/

www.twrcwildlifecenter.org/volunteer/baby-bird-program/

Tiny homes in the winter landscape

by Sandy Swegel

A week of warm days meant it was time  to cut back the ornamental grasses that are so popular in Colorado.  What is winter interest in December and January now looks messy and broken by winter winds and snow load.  Cutting back big grasses can be a bear of a task but it has its unexpected rewards.

Feather reed grasses like Karl Forster should be cut first because they green up the earliest so look much nicer if they get their haircut while mostly dormant.  One secret to keeping your ornamental grasses looking good (so you don’t have to dig them up and divide them much) is to cut them very short to within an inch or two of the ground instead of the ugly foot high cut that’s don’t in urban medians.

And in that inch or two above the ground is where I found the tiny neighborhoods hidden in winter debris.  The noise and racket I made cutting and then raking brought out the inhabitants.

First, adult ladybugs flew up…a little surprised at the sudden sun but not too alarmed…mostly looking around for aphids to eat, maybe water to drink.

Next the young lime-green lacewings stirred, reluctant to be disturbed as the true adolescents they were.  They tried to just move a centimeter to the left under some other debris to go back to sleep.  The bug equivalent of pulling the blankets over their heads.

Finally, I accidentally disturbed a solitary bee that was half an inch under the soil.  Poor bee was in a semi-dormant state and just lay on its side barely moving as the earthquake that was me had just thrown him to the surface. They reminded me more of the college student down in the basement on Spring Break.  The house needs to be burning down before they wake up at the crack of dawn on a Sunday morning.   I learned the hard way to be sure to wear gloves when because a groggy bee will reflexively sting you much like that surly college student is likely to throw something at you at 7 am.  I took a bit of loose dirt and debris and buried the bee again, hoping it would just settle down unharmed.  No point in waking up now before breakfast was ready. The dandelions don’t have flowers yet.

 

Nature in late winter hides most of her inhabitants.  They are in tiny nests under grasses and at the feet of willows or in debris under the shrubs.  The insects I saw in my first venture into the garden don’t bolt awake as we do on a Monday morning trying to get to work.  They’re more like cats, stretching and maybe yawning then turning around to find another comfy position to sleep in.   They are just adorable.

Photo credits

https://closecritters.com/2016/11/27/trash-bugs-lacewing-larvae/

http://dallas.culturemap.com/news/restaurants-bars/06-09-13-north-texas-farmer-garden-native-solitary-bees/

Five Spot: A wildflower for shade and for native bees

by Sandy Swegel

I love blue flowers so naturally I am enthused about our new “Blue Blazes” collection of seeds for eight different blue wildflowers. What really caught my attention is a little flower I’ve never seen growing that now I just have to have.

Nemophila maculata is white with single blue-purple spots on the tips of each of its five petals. So cute. Such an unusual design is believed to have evolved to capture the attention of native solitary bees. “Five Spot,” the flower’s common name, is an early cool-season annual flower that prefers shady moist areas. Although my garden in Colorado is pretty dry, shady areas under trees are well-watered in Spring where the snow is slow to melt in the shade. Perfect I think for a flower whose name Nemophila loosely translates as “woodland lover.”

 

I’m going to plant my five spots in an area with that has early Spring purple crocuses and early Summer blue columbine. I’m hoping Five Spot blooms just between those two.

 

Five Spot finishes blooming once the weather gets hot, but it leaves seeds to reappear next Spring. Now I have a new travel destination on my list: California’s Sierra Nevada in early Spring when fields of this sweet wildflower bloom naturally.

 

 

 

Photo credit
https://agresearchmag.ars.usda.gov/2010/aug/bee

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nemophila_maculata#

Alyssum

by Sandy Swegel

It’s time to give the last garden award of the year: Latest Bloomer of the Year. Late blooming flowers are important because they are the last nectar and pollen sources of the season for bees and other pollinators. Bees especially show up on sunny Fall days when the warmth prompts the bees to leave the hive but freezes have already killed off all the flowers except for a hardy few who have little warm micro-ecosystems.

It’s a tie this year. The day after Thanksgiving only two flowers were in bloom: Sweet Alyssum, Lobularia maritima, the annual, and yellow perennial alyssum, Aurinia saxatilis.

Perennial alyssum is the Spring yellow cascading ground-cover known as “Basket of Gold“. It’s glory days are Spring, but it throws out tiny yellow flowers here and there most of the year. The cooler weather of Fall spurs on more flowers and the bees can see those bright yellow flowers from far away.

White or Sweet Allysum is the annual often found in planters mixed with geraniums. It is sturdy, blooms all season and has a very sweet smell. Bees love it all season long. It reseeded itself which is how it made itself at home between pavers on a stone patio. Adorable, hardy and bee food. What a flower!

So, dear Alyssums, we salute you this year as latest bloomers. The bees appreciate your food and the humans love your beauty as winter gray takes over our once colorful gardens.Basket-of-gold AlyssumSweet AlyssumPhotos:

http://typesofflower.com/alyssum-flower-beautiful-meaning-with-gently-care-flower/alyssum-flower-annual-or-perennial/
https://roundrockgarden.wordpress.com/tag/parsley/

Ask Me Anything

by Sandy Swegel

Ask me Anything

About gardening that is. That’s what I tell people when I’m looking for blog ideas or a little fun.

So the answer this week in the form of a question was from my friend Jim:

“Why do sunflowers follow the sun but then all die facing the same way?”

That was a puzzler. I had to look that one up…fortunately there was just an article in August in the journal Science.

 

Sunflowers do follow the sun as long as they are still growing. The start off facing east and follow through the day facing west at sunset. Overnight, they grow and face east by sunrise.

This has long been known to gardeners and scientists…but Science answered WHY they do it. Because flowers that face the sun are warmer and attract more pollinators than those facing away from the sun. Well, that’s a good way to make sure you are pollinated. Very clever Mother Nature.

But then there’s the question of why they all face East when they die. It’s actually much simpler than that. Sunflowers only follow the sun as long as they are growing. Once they reach their full mature height, they no longer grow taller. The main stem thickens and hardens and no longer moves with the sun. It stops in a position facing East. So that’s naturally where it dies. Why? Again, it’s just to entice the pollinators. An east-facing flower warms up earlier and stays warmer longer during the day when most pollinators are feeding.

The one exception to this rule? Wild sunflowers. They have so many small flowers at all kinds of angles, they face every which way. Their leaves tend to follow the sun while growing, but the flowers are all over the place.

 

So, thanks for the question, Jim.

Next! Ask me anything you’ve wondered about gardening.

 

Photos:

http://rebrn.com/re/this-sunflower-doesnt-want-to-face-east-492414/

https://redlegsrides.blogspot.com/2010/08/sunflower-sunrise.html

 

Bees Sleep

by Sandy Swegel

One evening near dusk in the garden, a gardening friend’s inquisitive granddaughter asked: “Where do bees sleep?”  This obvious question brought on a googling frenzy.  We could guess that honey bees might sleep in the hive. But what about the 4000 species of native solitary bees?  Hive-dwelling honey bees are a small percentage of the total bee population.

The answer should have been obvious:  Bees sleep on flowers! How adorable!

 

To be more precise, male native bees usually sleep on flowers.  When the female bees are laying eggs and raising young bees, they often sleep in solitary nests in the ground.

Sleeping on flowers has lots of advantages. It’s soft and very convenient.  You wake up and there’s breakfast (nectar and pollen) served in bed!

 

Some of my favorite stories of bees sleeping come from the squash bee family.  Squash bees spend their day inside a squash blossom.  As evening approaches, the male squash bee makes himself comfy as the squash flower wilts and closes around him.  In the morning, not too early, the flower opens again and the bee begins a new days foraging.  If the female bees have made nests, the nests are usually in soft dirt under the squash fruit.  So if you are growing pumpkins, it’s likely there are some young bees growing up under one of those pumpkins.

Foraging bees need the most sleep.  You’ll often find bumblebees taking an afternoon nap on a flower, all tuckered out from a hard day’s work. Younger bees and bees that do less foraging often just take short little 30 second naps.  Honey bees sometime sleep in the hive and sometimes they like to camp out and sleep under the stars. Next time you see a bee, motionless on a flower, don’t worry, it’s not dead…it’s just taking a nap!

 

 

Photos:

http://www.yalescientific.org/2015/03/bzzzzzz-the-bees-need-for-sleep/

http://www.arkive.org/honey-bee/apis-mellifera/image-A18941.html

http://www.abc.net.au/news/2015-11-06/natiive-bees-daisy/6918448

Seven reasons to grow Agastache

by Sandy Swegel

The number one reason, of course, is because hummingbirds love Agastache.  I was trying to pull a few weeds yesterday and at least three different hummingbirds were dining on the Agastache blooms…with one dive-bombing me to get me out of “their” territory.

As I enjoyed the late afternoon sun amid the buzzing I thought six more reasons I REALLY love Agastache.

Startling beautiful flowers

Complex blossoms in multi colors with long tubes.  Mine are orange and red.  Agastaches come in several colors in red-orange-apricot sunset colors.  Another Agastache (Lavender Hyssop) is blue. The Agastache stems make for an interesting addition in a cut flower arrangement.

Interesting Foliage

This Agastache (Agastache rupestris) has thin airy leaves that look quite blue.  An interesting texture when planted en masse.

 

Divine Fragrance

My little patch smells like root beer.  There’s a whole series of Agastaches named after the bubble gums they smell like.

Great in a Mixed Border

This little patch grows in the lavender bed.  When the lavender is in full display, the Agastaches are still small.  Then as the Agastache come into play, the lavenders are still putting out a few complementary purple flowers.  Orange butterfly weed is planted next to the Agastache making both look more interesting.  The Agastache reseed gently throughout the border.

Attract bees and all kinds of pollinators

Yesterday I saw hummingbird moths, native bees, honey bees, a huge bumblebee and some tiny flies…in addition to the hummingbirds.  Butterflies were there earlier in the day.

 

Photos:

monarchbutterflygarden.net/5-butterfly-flowers-attract-monarchs-and-hummingbirds/

 

Squash Bee

Peponapis: A Squash Lovin’ BeeSquash Bee

Jul 19, 2016 04:54 pm | thebeeswaggle

by Jessica Goldstrohm

Did you know some bees are very dependent on particular species of flowers?

This lovely bee is the squash bee, and I was fortunate enough to discover her, along with may others nestled inside squash flowers of a good friend’s garden! This was a very healthy and thriving collection of squash bees, and they are very specific to squash plant reproduction.

Squash bees are quite predictable in the flower preference they have; squash flowers, any type of squash flower, but it must be a squash flower.  They fly very early in the morning, sometimes before dawn seeking the opening squash flowers.  The females will spend much of the morning nestled inside squash flowers, circling the stamen of the flower, collecting nectar and pollen for their nests.  In fact, you will often find groups of squash bees within each squash bloom, absent of any conflict among them.

07.29.16 SquashBee2

Squash Bee

My photos too!

Squash bees are solitary nesters, meaning they work independently to build her nest, lay eggs, and collect all resources for the eggs they lay.  However, they may nest in aggregations of hundreds, kind of like apartment buildings are to humans. We live next to each other, but we all lead separate lives.

Squash bees prefer to nest VERY close to their favorite flowering plants, so you will most often find their nesting holes in the ground under squash plants.  Females will retreat to he nest come rundown, while males find a nice squash flower to sleep in until morning.

This activity continues throughout the summer, and partway into fall, then all the existing bees die, leaving behind the next season’s generation nestled all in a row of egg cells containing adult bees.  This new generation of bees will hibernate until the following spring or early summer when the squash plants are flowering.  Squash bees are so particular about the flowers they feed on, that their lifecycle revolves around squash plants!

I’m sure you may have already arrived at the question of what does that mean for them when we go to clear the dead squash plants at the end of the season?  Well, too much deep tilling can lead to complete destruction of a mother bee’s hard work.  Squash bees nest approximately 1.5 feet straight down into the ground, so only rigorous tilling harms nests. Leaving some of the plant behind can serve as insulation to the hibernating bees through the winter.

Next time you see a squash plant, take a peek inside to see a group of squash bees, and look under the squash plant for any holes in the ground that might be a squash bee’s nest.

There you have it! Another native bee we depend on to get resources we all enjoy in the fall!  I can’t wait to have some zucchini from my plants, and pumpkin too!  So many things occurring right beneath our noses, and we miss them when we don’t stop and observe.

Cheers to joining the movement to save our bees!

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/