Ruby-Throated Hummingbirds

by Heather Stone

Photo of a hummingbird in flight.

Photo courtesy of pixabay – skeeze

The Ruby-throated Hummingbird is one of the most commonly recognized hummingbirds in North America, especially in the eastern half of the country where they spend their summers. They are the only hummingbird to breed east of the Great Plains. Commonly found in open woods, forest edges, parks, gardens and yards their familiar green and red plumage, make them easy to identify.

Ruby-throated Hummingbirds are 3-3.75 inches in length and weigh around 10-13 ounces with a life span of about 4-6 years. These speedy little birds flap their wings 53 times per second, can hover in mid-air and fly upside down and backward. The males have a striking bright red or red-orange iridescent throat. The males’ upperparts and head are bright green. The female’s underparts are plain white and upperparts green, but they lack the brilliant red throat of the male.

Ruby-throated Hummingbirds feed mostly on nectar and insects. They are strongly attracted to red and orange flowers, like those of trumpet vine, red columbine, bee balm, scarlet sage and many Penstemon varieties. They happily feed from nectar feeders too.

Ruby-throated Hummingbirds are solitary birds that only come together to mate. The female builds her cup-shaped nest about 10-20 feet above ground in a well-camouflaged area of a shrub or tree.  Here she will commonly produce 1-2 broods of 2 white eggs per year. The incubation period is 10-16 days. The female, alone, will care for the young for 2-3 weeks before they are mature enough to leave the nest.

In early fall, the Ruby-throated Hummingbird will begin its migration to Mexico & Central America crossing over 500 miles of water in their nonstop journey across the Gulf of Mexico. They can become a little more aggressive near food sources in late summer as they begin preparing for the journey.

To attract more of these lovely birds to your yard keep a clean and full nectar feeder, plant more nectar-rich flowers in their favorite colors of orange and red, limit insecticide use and provide a water source such as a mister or shallow fountain for these birds bathe and preen in.

Let us help you plant more nectar-rich hummingbird attracting flowers with our Wildflowers for Hummingbirds Mix.

Our Most Popular Pollinator Wildflower Seed mixes ̶  May 2019

 

Honey Bee on yellow blossom.

Pollinators are the magic ingredient that makes our natural world work. They fuel lifecycles of entire ecosystems and are found everywhere flowering plants are. Humans are also incredibly dependent on pollinators. Pollinators come in all shapes and sizes. Honeybees, native bees, bumblebees, butterflies, birds, bats, and other wild critters are all incredibly important pollinators!

Unfortunately, we are losing our pollinators at an alarming rate. Insect pollinators are being hit especially hard. Habitat loss, exposure to pesticides, lack of food, and diseases are all leading factors in the decline of these species. We should all be concerned. One-third of our food, from coffee to strawberries, are dependent on pollinators to produce. We need these animals just as much as they need us.

We take our favorite wildflower seeds and blend them into mixes specially formulated to help create habitat and forage for the pollinators in your backyard. We make sure to use fresh, high quality, open-pollinated, GMO-free seeds because you deserve to have a successful, healthy, and fun planting experience. Our mixes are all seed with none of the fillers that you might find in other mixes because we believe you should get what you’re paying for.

Click here if you have any questions about how to select your site, plant, or care for our wildflower mixes!

Here are our most popular pollinator seed mixes:

 

1.     Monarch Rescue Wildflower Mix

Monarch butterfly on pink blossom.

Monarch Butterflies are some of the most wonderful and strange animals on Earth. Every year, they migrate between the high mountains of Mexico through most of North America. This migration takes four separate generations of butterflies to complete and covers a massive amount of territory. To complete this migration, the Monarchs need plenty of forage and nesting sites along the way.

However, habitat and forage loss has been devastating for the Monarch Butterfly. Milkweed plants are the only plants that Monarch Butterflies will lay their eggs on. These plants have been wiped out of large portions of the United States due to concerns about allergies and their designation as a “weed”. Habitat loss and pesticide use have also reduced the amount of good forage for Monarchs, weakening them too much to complete their journey.

This is why we created our Monarch Rescue Wildflower Mix. This mix of Milkweeds and wildflowers is a Monarch Butterfly booster shot. This mix is full of nutrition and habitat for the butterflies passing through your area. Make your garden a Monarch paradise with this mix.

Find it here.

2.     Bee Rescue Wildflower mix

Honey bees on purple lavender blossoms.

Bees have had a rough time of late. The incredible loss of honey bees in recent years has been well documented and reported on. However, the crisis is much deeper than just honey bees. North America has over 4,000 species of native bees. Most native bees are solitary and are extremely effective pollinators. However, these little bees are little understood and are in even more danger than honey bees because they don’t have beekeepers watching out for them!

This colorful combination of wildflowers will provide nectar and pollen for full season support of native and introduced bee species.  Our “Bee Rescue” Wildflower mix has been designed to include the absolute best species to support the health and vitality for a wide range of native pollinators as well and the honey bee. These are the flowers that attract the most pollinators and will do well over the most growing zones.

Get our Bee Rescue Wildflower Mix here!

3.     Bumblebee Bonanza Wildflower Mix

A pollen covered bumblebee on a pink blossom.

Bumblebee Bonanza Mix is a colorful mix that includes specially selected species of nectar and pollen-rich, annual and perennial flowers that are known to attract bumblebees and other pollinators and will provide quality forage from early spring until late fall.

This mixture of annuals and perennials is designed to provide early, mid and late season blooms to support the life cycle of the bumblebee as well as other pollinators. These flower species will do well in a variety of growing conditions and are recommended for a maintained, home-garden planting or commercial landscape.  The best time for planting this mix is in the early spring, early summer and late fall.

Buy the Bumblebee Bonanza Mix Here!

4.     Hummingbird Wildflower Mix

Green hummingbird in flight.

This mix has been created with the vibrantly colored, nectar-rich species that hummingbirds love.  Consisting of mostly perennials, this mix will continue to provide support to hummingbirds and other important pollinators.  A few annuals are included to provide color the first year while the perennials become established and will bloom the second year.

Get it here and start enjoying your hummingbird garden!

 

5.     Honey Source Wildflower Mix

Honey bees on a honeycomb.

A long blooming mix of beautiful, nectar and pollen-rich annuals and perennials put together just for our Honey Bee friends.  Plant this mix to provide vital nutrition for the European Honey Bees.  These hard-working pollinators are necessary for our agricultural production and are a major contributor to our food supply.  Lack of native nectar and pollen sources between crop rotations can cause stress and starvation that contribute to colony collapse.

Our Honey Source Wildflower Mix can be found here!

One Last Thing

At BBB Seed, we are deeply committed to providing the highest quality grass, wildflower, and grass seeds to empower our customers to get out and grow! This list of our Most Popular Wildflower Seeds is intended to be a useful resource for you to see what products our customers and we are enjoying right now!

We also are incredibly concerned about providing sustainable and environmentally conscious products to you. We source seeds that are non-genetically engineered, tested, and grown sustainably. We hope these products will help you enjoy nature and learn about this wonderful world in the garden. We also strongly encourage you to visit our Pollinator Action Page to learn about the pollinators that make our natural world possible and learn more about what you can do to help them. Thank you!

Grow. Enjoy. Share…the beauty and the bounty!

 

Anise Hyssop- Herb of the Year

By Heather Stone

Photo of a yellow bird sitting on an anise hyssop blossom.

photo courtesy of pixabay

Every year since 1995 the International Herb Association has named an Herb of the Year. This year’s selection is Anise hyssop, Agastache foeniculum. This North American native wildflower has a lot to offer in the garden, the kitchen, the medicine chest and to the pollinators.

 

Anise hyssop is native to the Upper Midwest, Great Plains and into Canada. It’s found growing in prairies, dry upland forests, plains and fields from Northern Colorado to Wisconsin in the US and from Ontario to British Columbia in Canada. Anise hyssop is a member of the mint family. It grows best in full sun to part shade in dry to moderately moist soils with good drainage. This low maintenance perennial thrives in zones 4-9 reaching heights on average of 1-3’ tall by 1-3’ wide. Beautiful lavender flower spikes bloom in summer and with regular deadheading will continue until fall. The flowers are edible and make for a nice cut and dried flower. Both the flowers and the leaves can be added to baked goods or salads. My favorite way to use them is finely chopped in a fruit salad.

 

Anise hyssop is easily grown from seed and established plants will spread by rhizomes or will self-seed in the right growing conditions. It also transplants easily. Deer tend to leave this plant alone, but the same can’t be said for rabbits. Anise hyssop works well in the middle or back of the border and is at home in native, wildflower and herb gardens as well as in prairies and meadows. Great companions for anise hyssop include Black-eyed Susan, Purple Coneflower, Bee Balm and native grasses. Anise hyssop also looks fantastic in pots mixed with flowering annuals.

 

While the flowers of this plant have no scent, the leaves of anise hyssop smell and taste like licorice with notes of lemon, pine and sage. Native Americans found the scent uplifting and used the leaves to help treat depression. This was but one of many uses the Native Americans had for Anise Hyssop. It was also used externally as a poultice to treat wounds and burns and as a wash for itchy skin irritations such as poison ivy. Internally, it was used for treating diarrhea, fevers and coughs. Anise hyssops’ antibacterial, anti-inflammatory and expectorant properties make it an excellent herb for soothing coughs and relieving chest congestion. I find it to be especially effective in children. The best time to harvest leaves for use is just past full bloom when the oil content in the leaves is at the highest.

 

Anise hyssop is also a favorite plant of many pollinators. The lavender flowers are a good nectar source and highly attractive to bumblebees, native bees, honey bees, butterflies, hummingbirds and beetles. Goldfinches love to feed on the seed so make sure to leave some flowers standing in the garden at the season. So let’s celebrate 2019 by adding a plant or two of Anise Hyssop to the garden this year.

Photo of a Blue Tit Bird eating from a suet ball.

MAKE YOUR OWN SUET BALLS FOR BIRDS

By Engrid Winslow

During the long cold winter months, fat is extremely important for many birds to survive. The species that especially love suet are woodpeckers and flickers, chickadees, wrens, goldfinches, juncos, cardinals, robins, jays, blackbirds and starlings. Be aware that raccoons, squirrels and mice are also attracted to suet so be prepared to use baffles or place mesh over the balls to deter them.

Suet is raw fat and has also been used to make candles and Christmas pudding. You can get it from your butcher and ask him to grind it for you. Then it needs to be melted and strained to remove any solids. If you want to avoid the “ick” factor, you can substitute l cup lard or shortening. The birds will eat it plain but many recipes call for adding seeds, dried fruit or even insects to the mix. Many pet food and birding stores sell pre-made suet cakes but it is so much more fun to make your own in various shapes and hang them outside. If you are getting only starlings, hang the balls with a mesh around all sides but the bottoms. This will make it possible for all of the woodpeckers to hang upside down and eat while the starlings are baffled and confused. Place them near where you already have feeders with plain birdseed and watch the fluttery show!

Here are some methods and recipes for making the suet cakes or balls:

_____________________________________________

    1 cup crunchy peanut butter

    1 cup lard

    2 cups quick cook oats

    2 cups cornmeal

    1 cup flour

  1/3 cup sugar

Melt the peanut butter and lard and add remaining ingredients and cool.

_____________________________________________
    1 cup crunchy peanut butter 
    1 cup shortening
    1 cup flour
    3 cups cornmeal
    1 cup cracked corn
    1 cup black oil sunflower seeds and/or mixed seed

Melt the peanut butter and shortening, add remaining ingredients and cool.

 
_____________________________________________

4 1/2 cups ground fresh suet

  3/4 cup dried and finely ground bakery goods such as Whole-wheat or cracked-wheat bread or crackers

  1/2 cup shelled sunflower seeds

  1/4 cup millet

  1/4 cup dried and chopped fruit such as cranberries, currants, raisins, or other berries

  1. Melt suet in a saucepan over low heat.
  2. Mix the rest of the ingredients together in a large bowl.
  3. Allow the suet to cool until slightly thickened, then strain and stir into the mixture in the bowl. Mix thoroughly.
  4. Pour or pack into forms or suet feeders or pack into pine cones.

_____________________________________________

  1/2 lb. fresh ground suet

  1/3 cup sunflower seed

  2/3 cup wild bird seed mix

  1/8 cup chopped peanuts

  1/4 cup raisins

  1. Melt suet in a saucepan over low heat. Allow it to cool thoroughly, then reheat it.
  2. Mix the rest of the ingredients together in a large bowl.
  3. Allow the suet to cool until slightly thickened, then stir it into the mixture in the bowl. Mix thoroughly.
  4. Pour into pie pan or form, or pack into suet feeders.

Optional or substitute ingredients: millet (or other bird seed), cornmeal, cooked noodles, chopped berries, dried fruit.

BBB Seed’s Wildflowers to Attract Butterflies and Birds

by Heather Stone

Photo of two birds on a birdbath.

Photo courtesy of pixabay

It brings great pleasure to see more birds and butterflies about the garden and we as gardeners can do a lot to attract and protect the birds and butterflies that visit our garden. These critters simply need a safe place to live and healthy food to eat.

Wildflowers to attract butterfly and birds seed packet.

Butterflies

For butterflies, providing food (host plants) for caterpillars, nectar sources for adult butterflies and a safe place to overwinter can all be accomplished in a small area. Caterpillars of some species of butterflies have very specific larval host plants, while some will eat a wide range of species. Nectar is the primary food source for most adult butterflies. Planting nectar-rich plants in the garden is sure to attract more butterflies. Depending on the species, butterflies overwinter in all stages of life from egg to adult. Some places they overwinter include leaf litter, the bases of bunch grasses, rock piles, brush or wood piles, behind loose tree bark and near their host plants.

 

Birds

Just like butterflies birds need healthy food to eat and shelter. Start by planting native plants in your garden that provide seeds, berries, nuts and nectar. Shrubs and trees, especially evergreen species, provide excellent shelter and nesting sites for birds. Birds also need a year-round water source such as a bird bath. Providing nesting boxes and offering food in feeders will attract even more birds.

Photo of an orange and yellow butterfly on a marigold bloom.

Photo courtesy of pixabay.

Try planting our Birds and Butterflies mix to attract more birds and butterflies to your landscape. The mixture of annuals, perennials, introduced and native wildflowers is designed to attract butterflies over a long season of bloom from spring until fall and a variety of birds to the seeds come autumn.

 

Sources:  Gardening for Butterflies, The Xerces Society

https://www.nwf.org/sitecore/content/Home/Garden-for-Wildlife/Wildlife/Attracting-Birds

Oh, Sunflowers!

By Engrid Winslow

Sunflower photo courtesy of Christy Short.

Gorgeous Sunflower Photo Courtesy of Christy Short

Sunflowers (Helianthus sp.) are such a great annual for so many reasons. First of all, they are so darn cheerful with their big, bright blooms during the hottest part of the summer.  They are also easy to grow.  Just poke them into the ground and keep them well-watered until they germinate and then stand back because they thrive in rich soil and heat.  The pollen is loved by bees and the seeds are attractive to birds.  Sunflowers come in so many varieties with sizes ranging from 12” to 15‘ tall and the colors vary from pale lemon yellow to bright yellow, orange, red and bronze.  The petals can be single, double or in fluffy multiple layers (check out Teddy Bear Sunflower).

Tag for Teddy Bear Sunflower packet with bushy foliage has multiple 3 - 6" golden-yellow, double blooms

It can be fun to watch the birds eat the seeds or you can make a fun project out of roasting them. To do this: soak the seeds in salted water for 24 hours, then roast in a single layer on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper at 350 for 35 minutes, stirring frequently. Let them cool and store in an airtight container. If you want to serve them warm after roasting toss them with a bit of melted butter for a delicious treat. Sunflower seeds are high in vitamin C, E and are high in fiber which supports digestion, they also contain antioxidants, magnesium (for bone health) and can help lower cholesterol.

The roots of sunflowers have an allopathic quality which inhibits the ability of other plants nearby to grow properly. This makes them a great choice for weed suppression but keep them away from other flowers that you love.

Half awake sunflower photo courtesy of Christy Short.

Half Awake Sunflower (Photo Courtesy of Christy Short)

 

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/

Attract chickadees to your garden

by Sandy Swegel

Chickadees are out and about on warm winter days.  They are the tiny white birds with black heads that are flittering and chirping vocally on sunny January days.  I often see them in the top branches of evergreens.

Chickadees are small birds that don’t migrate but hunker down in tree cavities to survive the winter despite their tiny bodies.  You can have lots of chickadees in your garden if you keep a simple tube feeder with seeds (they love black sunflower seeds.). You can also feed them with your garden by leaving the seed heads on all the plants for the chickadees to sit on or hunt and peck for.  Chickadees need a lot of food …. the eat about a third of their body weight per day.

 

And that is why you want them to live in your garden.  They may rely on seeds in winter but come early spring and mating time, they get about 80% of their diet from insects.  They eat so many insects, some wildlife fans call them the pest exterminator of the forest.  And their favorite insect?  Aphids!  Tiny aphids are the perfect food for tiny chickadee beaks.  The birds are very systematic and will cling to a plant stem eating one aphid after another until they clear the entire stem. In spring before your plants are even sending up new stalks, the chickadees will pick in leaf litter finding the baby aphids just as they hatch or even just eating the yummy aphid eggs.

 

Photo credits

https://www.nwf.org/News-and-Magazines/National-Wildlife/Gardening/Archives/2016/Help-Birds-Stay-Warm.aspx

 

http://www.audubon.org/field-guide/bird/black-capped-chickadee

 

Bird Baths

Eight critters you can find in your bird baths

by Sandy Swegel

Cute little birds hatched out of a nest in my roof eaves this spring so I decided to put a bird bath in the front yard so I could watch strategically from the window. I didn’t have traditional bird baths so shallow stone bowls on the ground had to make do. It’s been a couple of months and I have yet to see the birds in the bath although they may splash about when I’m not home. I have discovered lots of critters need water in the heat of summer. Here’s who shows up if you have a water source in your yard.
8. Wasps
OK, so they’re not my favorite although they have an important role in the garden. Wasps aren’t just insatiably thirsty, the water is crucial for keeping their nests cool.

7. Mosquito Larvae
Duh…standing water attracts mosquitoes. Since West Nile is prevalent around here, I empty out the water whenever I see the tiny larvae swimming around.

6. Raccoons
Fortunately, we don’t have too many raccoons in my yard, but if the birdbath is all muddy or knocked over, it’s a sign the raccoons were there.

 

 

5. Bunnies
We have a bunny overpopulation this year. Officially, I hate them. They chow down on young garden plants and my favorite flowers. Secretly they are so cute. It’s been so hot and dry who could deny a baby rabbit a sip of water. I guess the baby squirrels can drink too.

4. Bees
I always make sure there are rocks in my bird bath for the bees to stand on so they don’t drown. Bees need lots of water for digestion and to cool the hive.

 

3. Butterflies
Be sure to have nice shallow water to attract butterflies. These are so delightful! Even the cabbage moths are cute.

 

2. All the other mammals
Neighborhood dogs, deer taking a break from eating your flowers. If it’s a big enough bird bath, you might get a bear or two in bear country. My friends used a motion detector night camera to catch a bobcat drinking from their little water pond.

1. And finally birds!

Photos:

http://www.scoontemplations.com/2012/06/bunny-with-death-wish.html
http://hillsidegardencenter.com

http://animalwall.xyz/bird-bath-fun-water-hd-background/

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/