More Wildflowers

More Wildflowers

by Sandy Swegel

The fields and meadows of the Rocky Mountains in Colorado are awash in wildflowers this year.  Lots of moisture in the Fall and Spring has turned our mountains into riots of color that started early and keeps going and going.  We, gardeners, keep playing hooky from our weeding tasks to hike along mountain meadows and enjoy the beauty of nature that doesn’t have to be weeded or watered.  We also get excited about how wildflowers make us very happy and we try to plant more of them in our gardens.

There’s a deeper story to the wildflower bloom.  It’s that we’ve actually been having longer wildflower seasons for years now.  I look at a good wildflower season as a reason to rejoice and do more wandering and hiking.  Scientists at the Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory looked out their windows in Crested Butte, CO forty years ago and said, “Hmmm. What’s that about?” “Let’s collect some data.”  So for the last 39 years, they sent out scores of graduate students to count wildflowers.  They recorded when the flowers first bloomed, how many flowers were produced, how long the flowering lasted, etc. Now many years later, the wildflowers are telling an important story about climate change.  Turns out we do have more wildflowers.  Almost a full month’s worth more.  The flowers bloom earlier in the Spring and last longer in the Fall.

It’s still too early to know exactly what it means that we have an extra month of wildflower season.  Clearly, this is evidence of climate change. But what it means is less clear.  We get the first bloom six days earlier than 40 years ago. That means birds and pollinators have food earlier.  But we still get the same number of flowers which means the actual amount of nectar hasn’t changed.

Up in Crested Butte, the scientists still look out and ask “Hmmm? What’s that about? Let’s collect some data.”  Graduate students still count the number of flowers in little 30 foot plots across the mountain.  A new study is putting tiny radio transmitters on hummingbirds to see how their feeding is changing.

Meanwhile, the wildflowers give us abundant beauty …and… hard data that climate change is happening, rather rapidly.

Photo Credit: www.constantinealexander.net/2014/03/rocky-mountain-wildflower-season-lengthens-by-more-than-a-month.html

 

 

Inviting Orioles for Summer Dining

Inviting Orioles for Summer Dining

by Sandy Swegel

This is the best time of the year.  Summer Harvest is coming in strong.  Cherry tomatoes and grilled marinated zucchini make wonderful summer suppers followed by fresh cherries and peaches.  A bottle of cold Prosecco and French brie and a couple of friends make for lovely summer evenings.  The only thing needed is the entertainment.  Hummingbirds are a favorite to watch buzzing in as dusk falls.  Mind you there is a garden full of flowers planted just for hummingbirds, but the little darlings are just like humans…who wants good healthy food when you can have dessert: some fresh sugar water in the colorful plastic feeder.  We put the feeder quite close to the picnic table so we could see the hummers coming to feed.  But last week there was a big surprise.  Something had pecked out the cute little openings on the feeder and drained it dry.  At first, I had unkind thoughts about the neighborhood squirrels, but then, the evening’s star performers appeared, a pair of bright orange Orioles.  What a perfect accompaniment to dinner with friends.

Now everyone wanted their own Orioles.  Turns out they’ve always lived here in the big cottonwood trees along creeks. But we learned what every midwesterner apparently knows.  If you want Orioles, you put out orange pieces and grape jelly.  The grape jelly is the guaranteed winner.  We heard stories from Wisconsin cousins that they can’t even buy grape jelly in the store right now because everyone is buying it for the Orioles.  Ahhh, our songbird overlords.  But they are lovely dinner companions.

Enjoy the summer harvest and invite friends over.  You’ve worked hard all season for this.  Lean back and watch both human and avian friends dine on your deck! Life is good.

photo credit:

http://www.duncraft.com/Oriole-Fest-and-Orange-Swirl-Guard

 

 

 

 

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Morning Garden Meditation

by Sandy Swegel

Yesterday afternoon the musical ditty stuck in my head was a 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 be 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 the 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

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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 typical 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 yard work 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 heartfelt 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 to 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

 

 

 

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A Wild Thicket

by Sandy Swegel

When it comes to our gardens, we Americans are of a divided heart. Deep in our ancestral memories are the manicured gardens of Europe.  We swoon over the groomed roses and delphiniums of England, We admire the orderliness of rows of Tuscan poplars. We see the almost mathematical grid of Versailles echoed in Jefferson’s Monticello. We use raised beds to confine our vegetables just as the medieval cloister gardens were enclosed.

 

 At the same time, we Americans are a frontier people, dazzled by the wildness and grandeur of raw untamed nature.  Grassy plains and dense woodlands and mountains majesty tug at our hearts even as we tend our suburban plots.

 

To fill the needs of our wild nature souls, I think it’s always good to have a wild area in our yard. One that manages to thrive only on what nature provides and provides a haven for small wildlife.  Generally, there is some place in your yard that already refuses to be tamed. Someplace wild plums keep sprouting and sumacs come unbidden.   This is the area to encourage in your yard – your secret garden, if you’d like – or just the area you see from your kitchen window reminding you that beneath the dishes and chores and children and jobs, you have a wild spirit too.

 My favorite thicket started with the wild plums that kept coming back. Over time, a couple of chokecherries worked their way in, and the patch of lemon balm appeared all on its own.  Birds planted wild roses. Squirrels brought in nuts. I decided to play along with nature and seeded an unruly pollinators’ hedge filled with the nectar and pollen-rich flowering plants that bees and butterflies crave. I let the wild queen anne’s lace have some space in the back and I didn’t pull the dandelions. I did plant one of those tall dark purple butterfly bushes for structure and I seeded a buffer zone of grasses and wildflowers to create a neutral zone of sorts between “The Lawn” and “The Thicket.” 

 I don’t really “garden” the thicket but over time I’ve planted some naturalizing crocus and daffodils and a handful of seeds a decade ago that keep the spring display stunning.  About the only care I give the area is water during really dry spells and a birdbath of water because butterflies and birds and bees need something to drink.

 I am proudest of my tended garden…the showy beds of vegetables and annual flowers, the elegant stretches of roses and flowering shrubs and tulips in Spring. But deep down, it is my thicket that I love the most.

 

Growing your Own Bird Feeder

by Sandy Swegel

I learned something really new this week. This week I learned that birds like to eat bugs. Well, duh, you say.  Think about it. One of the great images we have of spring is the mama bird dangling a worm over the gaping beaks of adorable baby birds. Then think about our typical bird feeders….full of sunflower seeds.

I was in the middle of converting a neglected path of weedy lawn into a flower bed and was thinking about “habitat” for birds. So I naturally considered sunflowers and plants with seeds or berries.  Then the teachable moment came at a talk our County biologist gave on native plants. She pointed us to Douglas Tallamy’s book “Bringing Nature Home Bringing Nature Home: How You Can Sustain Wildlife with Native Plants”. Tallamy points out 96% of North American wild birds feed their young with insects and larvae (caterpillars). Now the adult birds – like humans — may like the high fat, high sugar treats (berries) we give them…but it’s the protein in the bugs that is so important to sustain our bird populations.

Previously, I thought the point of planting native plants was because they were adapted to our local soil and weather and would survive better. But the real reason to plant natives is to feed the local beneficial insects (lady bugs, lacewings, moths, and all the little tiny flying things you can barely see) that live here already and who do the hard work of eating pests like aphids and thrips. They also do a lot of the pollination in our garden along the way.  Lots of insects means more pollinators for our flowers and more food for the birds – in other words, a healthy habitat.

So if you want to feed the birds, you need to feed the bugs. Nice plump insects, worms, and larvae are what bring more birds to your yard. Yum, Worms…it’s what’s for breakfast!

Learn More:

Bringing Nature Home: How You Can Sustain Wildlife with Native Plants: http://tinyurl.com/a9voelq

The New York Times article on Tallamy: http://tinyurl.com/yqmlhx

Saving Birds Thru Habitat website: http://tinyurl.com/bfeljl2

Photo Credit: http://tinyurl.com/bxtwed4

 

 

First There Were Wildflowers

by Sandy Swegel

Cecilia posted a question on our Facebook page this week asking if we knew a website like ours for wildflowers.  Wait, I thought that’s us.  We’ve gotten very enamored of vegetables lately but we know our roots:  we started as a wildflower seed company.  BBB Seed’s name came from our original name, “Beauty Beyond Belief” which means the beauty of natural wildflowers that can be in your garden all year round.  Later BBB Seed also stood for Bounty Beyond Belief (heirloom vegetables!).  Once we added the great line of botanical products, it meant Botanicals Beyond Belief.  And I can imagine a time in the future, no doubt accompanied by a few margaritas after work when we’ll come up with some more BBB’s.

But wildflowers were our first love…and if you see the photos of our head honcho Mike’s house, you’ll see a wild meadow of wildflowers.

Wildflowers are really easy to grow.  There is an entire procedure you can follow to properly install a wildflower area:  kill all weeds first, spread seed in Fall or late winter and let spring rains gently bring them to life.  But sometimes life is busy and you don’t have time to do things properly.  I’m waiting with eager anticipation to see what happens with the package of Butterfly and Birds mix I gave my neighbor Dana.  She has over an acre of property and she’s in retirement, so can’t spend too much work in any one spot in her garden. But she loves wildflowers.  Last weekend I saw her with her hoe, scratching a six-inch path of bare soil along the entire length of her property.  She was removing grasses and weeds.  Then she sprinkled the seed mix the entire path of her narrow trough.  She followed with the hose watering everything in.  I heard her explaining to the seeds that she didn’t have a lot of time to make a fuss over them, but she’d make sure they got lots of water to germinate and grow and that she couldn’t wait until they made a beautiful fence of wildflowers along the edge of her property.

I think she’s going to be right.  A wildflower garden shouldn’t take more than that.  The consistent watering until the plants are established is important.  And weeds and grass will grow (and she’ll probably cut down the thistles that come up), but I’m pretty sure the wildflowers will prevail and make a natural fence of color and beauty for the butterflies and birds and especially for the people.