Food for Fall Pollinators

by Sandy Swegel

Fall is a great time for birds and bears.  Gardens and natural areas are full of seeds and berries for getting the calories needed for winter.  Pollinators like bees, flies, butterflies, moths and insects need nectar and pollen food sources.  When I was in the foothills this weekend I noticed that native sources of nectar weren’t very evident. We haven’t had much rain so some late-season flowers finished earlier.  There were still tiny white aster blooms and stray late blooms of Penstemon, Liatris and Gaillardia, but this is nothing like the abundant feast of spring.  Poor pollinators…Fall must be a difficult time…addicted to sugar all summer and then have it all cut off.

 

Fall is one time when it’s good to have nice irrigated areas with annuals and non-native plants so that you can feed the pollinators of fall who are still active.  In home gardens this week I saw dozens of butterflies, bees and moths on late-season annuals like Verbena bonariensis, Cosmos, Zinnias.  Our love of home gardening is very helpful to pollinators.

 

Cornell University released a study this year about monarch butterflies.  While it is true that milkweed is the only food of the caterpillars, adult butterflies eat from all flowering plants.  This time of year the monarchs need a lot of nectar and pollen to give them the strength to migrate back home.  The monarchs can find nectar in areas gardened or farmed by humans.

 

So for those of us who love pollinators, providing some fall habitat with blooming flowers is very helpful to butterflies and all the pollinators. The longer in the season they eat, the better the chance they’ll survive winter.  To get ideas for what to grow, notice what might still be blooming in wild areas and where the pollinators are actively feeding in gardens.   Each year I give out awards to the plants I know for things like “First Bloom of the Year” or “Best Season Long Performer.”  The last award of the growing season is “Last Bloom of the Year.”  Sometime in November long after a hard frost, there is still some little single perennial flower that had several bees visiting it.  Most years it is blue Scabiosa, but Borage is putting up a last-minute burst into bloom.  Who won the last bloom of 2016 in your habitat?

Photos:

http://monarchbutterflygarden.net/are-native-only-wildlife-gardens-starving-fall-pollinators/

http://diet.yukozimo.com/what-do-honey-bees-eat/

 

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

 

 

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/

 

 

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/

 

Moth Night

by Sandy Swegel

I love the things humans find to celebrate. Partying really is in our DNA. It turns out that nature lovers in East Brunswick, New Jersey actually celebrate moths for an entire WEEK and have proclaimed July 23-31 National Moth Week. At first, I thought this was a quirky group of nature lovers reliving childhood adventures of going out at night with flashlights, but Moth Nights are an international event (US, UK, Europe, Asia, Africa)! The UK has celebrated Moth Night for hundreds of years. Switzerland and Hungary have European Moth nights and I’ll bet if your town doesn’t have Moth Night now, park services will be sponsoring them soon. It’s fun (all you need are bedsheets and flashlights, maybe some blacklights), environmentally conscious (moth counts and keeping track of endangered species) and a great family event.

 

Why moths? This is what the National Moth Week people promote:

* Moths are among the most diverse and successful organisms on earth.

* Scientists estimate there are 150,000 to more than 500,000 moth species.

* Their colors and patterns are either dazzling or so cryptic that they define camouflage. Shapes and sizes span the gamut from as small as a pinhead to as large as an adult’s hand.

* Most moths are nocturnal, and need to be sought at night to be seen – others fly like butterflies during the day.

* Finding moths can be as simple as leaving a porch light on and checking it after dark. Serious moth aficionados use special lights and baits to attract them.

And here at BBB Seed we add one very important reason to celebrate moths: they are POLLINATORS for night-opening flowers!

 

Take a look at moths this week. In my garden this week there is the ubiquitous pretty but destructive cabbage moth and the amazing hummingbird hawkmoth, both visible in the daylight. You can have your own “Moth Night” by hanging up a bed sheet on your clothesline and propping a UV black light behind it. Or just sit on the front porch with the light on!

Photocredits and more info:
nationalmothweek.org/
twitter.com/mothnight
www.komar.org/faq/travel/hummingbirds/moth/
http://ucanr.edu/blogs/blogcore/postdetail.cfm?postnum=18448

 

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/

 

Pollinators Support Biodiversity

by Jessica of The Bees Waggle

Biodiversity is the variety of life.  It showcases the relationships between all life forms on Earth.  It is the web of life, connecting all life on Earth in an interdependent web of function, purpose, and necessity.   It can be a protective mechanism against catastrophic failure of life.

Biodiversity provides:

A wide array of foods and materials, which contributes to the survival of all.  Examples include: medicines derived from plants; 7000 species of plants are also food sources for other species.

Genetic diversity, which defends against diseases and pests.

Example:  Monoculture crops are not diverse, genetically or otherwise,  and are thus susceptible to influxes of pests and disease, which is one reason why farmers of these crops are so dependent on chemicals to sustain crops. Planting hedgerows with a variety of plants encourages natural pest control for crops via predatory insects and birds.

Ecological services, which are functions performed by many species that result in sustaining life on Earth, and are a supported by biodiversity. Within each ecological service, there are many species at play.

Some examples of ecological services are:

Decomposition of waste

       Water purification

       Pest control

       Flood moderation

       Soil fertility

       Pollination

Adaptability to disturbances, which is achieved by a concerted effort of many life forms repairing the damage done by a natural disaster, or another form of disturbance.

Every piece of every ecosystem is important and each piece depends on the other pieces. We, as humans, are part of a planet-wide ecosystem, and we depend on many different systems for our survival.  One extremely important web we depend on is that of the pollinators.

Pollination supports biodiversity!  It is a mutually beneficial relationship between the pollinator and the pollinated. One without the other would be catastrophic. Pollination supports diversity of plants, as well as the animals that feed on those plants.  This beneficial relationship reaches broadly to birds, small mammals, large mammals, other insects, and us!  If this relationship were lost, many ecosystems would implode.

Pollinators contribute to biodiversity and life on Earth in ways that are significant to every ecosystem existing today.  Roughly 90 % of all flowering plant species are specialized for animal-assisted pollination!  7000 plant species are a form of food for other species.  Many of these flowering plants develop food only as a result of visiting pollinators, and this food supports the lives of countless species, including humans!  The disappearance of pollinators would inflict catastrophic consequences on the entire planet.

The diversity of pollinators alone is staggering!  There are 20,000 bee species accounted for on Earth, and there are likely more. This number does not account for the hundreds of thousands of species of flies, moths, butterflies, birds, bats, and beetles who also pollinate flowering plants.

Our pollinators are struggling.  Some populations of butterflies have declined as much as 90%!  Honeybee colony losses are at an all time high!  What do you think that means for our native bee species?  I can tell you it isn’t good.  The struggle is due to: loss of habitat, lack of food, and pesticide use.  

The fact that pollinators are broadly struggling threatens the balance of biodiversity, and life on Earth!

You can help by doing the following: add back habitat (shelter, food, and water), plant flowering plants, and please stop the use of all pesticides (including: insecticides, fungicides, and herbicides).  

 

Pesticide Applicators CAN Protect Pollinators

By Sandy Swegel

Most of the visitors to our Facebook page and website are already among the converted. We know how important pollinators are and we’re doing everything we can from avoiding pesticides to planting pollinator gardens in hope of preserving our pollinators.

Sometimes as activists for the things we feel passionate about, we human beings have a tendency to make the people who oppose our opinion into our enemy. The reality is that right now, everyone isn’t going to quit using pesticides no matter how much we want that. We all have spouses or neighbors or friends who are going to use pesticides no matter what we say. Garden and tree businesses are going to spray. So what the North American Pollinator Protection Campaign (NAPPC) is doing is bringing together government agencies like the EPA, pesticide manufacturers, licensed pesticide applicators, and non-profits like beekeeping associations to develop guidelines to teach pesticide applicators how to choose pesticides and how to spray while causing the least harm to bees and pollinators that end up as collateral damage.

A couple of obvious things pesticide users can do:

Schedule your pesticide application when bees aren’t active. Saturday morning or in the evenings after dinner before dark are the worse time to apply pesticides. Bees and pollinators are foraging then and likely to get sprayed or eat pollen or nectar that has just been sprayed. For some pesticides, simply applying it at night protects the pollinators while still killing the pests. You have to wake up before the bees or stay up after they go to sleep.

Plan your pesticide applications when plants aren’t in bloom. This isn’t always possible but some bloom times are short and you might find that waiting another week until the bloom is finished will still kill your pests and protect the pollinators.

Avoid drift and runoff.
Don’t spray on windy days. The wind carries the pesticide into neighboring areas or into your nose and eyes.
Don’t spray when it is about to rain. Many pesticides will dry within a few hours of application and be less toxic to pollinators. If you spray when rain is coming, those pesticides are going to be washed away into storm drains or rivers.

Keep the pesticide spray on the problem area….don’t keep spraying the rocks or sidewalk because you’re walking from one area to another. Use only as much pesticide as needed to achieve your goal. Drenching everything isn’t necessary.

Read and re-read labels. The formulations of your favorite pesticides can change Some are very toxic to bees. Others are only toxic under certain conditions. Know exactly what you are spraying and how it affects bees.

Pesticide applicators aren’t out there spraying because they hate bees. They want to get rid of their pests in the most efficient way. Print out this brochure for friends and neighbors and even companies you see applying pesticides. Help the people who INSIST on using pesticides learn that they can still protect pollinators.

Photos and more information:

 

www.Environmentalleader.com/2013/08/16/epa-launches-bee-protecting-pesticide-label/

 

Six Reasons to Grow Borage

Six Reasons to Grow Borage

by Sandy Swegel

  1. Bees love borage

Bees absolutely cover the plant when it is in bloom.  And bloom lasts a long time and repeats throughout the season.  Bees and other pollinators seem to prefer it to other nearby plants.  Must be extra tasty or sweet.

  1. Borage is super easy to grow

My neighbor lets her’s grow along her alleyway against chain link fence.  No water, no fertilizing….just run off from the grass and a bit of shade.  When the plants go to seed, she throws the seed heads a little further down the fence line.  Even in our arid climate, that’s hospitable enough for borage to grow.  No deadheading or fussing…just lots of plants. It’s is supposed to be an annual, but it acts like a perennial….plants grow back in the same place every year.

  1. Birds love borage

Borage makes a lot of flowers and seed heads.  In the Fall, the birds were hanging out on the sunflower heads nearby and I didn’t notice them in the borage.  But this Spring morning, about eight of those little birds that chatter so much in spring were digging and rooting in the borage patch.  Bird food in February is a good thing!

 

  1. Borage is edible for humans

The young greens can be added to mixed salads or steamed. (Older leaves are too hairy and not so yummy.)  The little flowers are adorable in salads. Pastry chefs candy the flowers for decorating desserts.

  1. Borage is medicinal. It has long been a medicinal herb for skin diseases, melancholy, diabetes and heart conditions. Borage oil is an important anti-inflammatory.
  2. And the number one reason to grow borage: They’re Blue!!!!!

OK, that’s the real reason I grow borage.  Blue flowers make me so happy and the blue of borage is one of the most amazing blues in the plant kingdom.

 

Photo Credits:

http://medicinalherbinfo.org

http://shop.gourmetsweetbotanicals.com/

http://kiwimana.co.nz/borage-good-for-bees/

 

Planting Wildflowers

Grow a Wildflower Meadow!

by Sandy Swegel

This blog post is for anyone who wants to grow wildflowers.  It is especially dedicated to BBB Seeds’ friends at the Rockies Audubon Society who have an awesome program called Habitat Heroes that encourages “wildscaping” your garden with native plants that attract pollinators and birds and support wildlife even in an urban area.

  • Deciding What and Where to Grow

Look at the site where you want to grow a wildflower meadow or patch.  An ideal site would have sun and good drainage and not too many weeds. Nature seldom provides what we consider ideal. So the next step is choosing the right mix of wildflowers.  We help by providing mixes for unique conditions such as sites that are dry or sites that shady.

  • Prepare the Soil

TX-OK-1oz

Some don’ts:

  • Don’t deep till!

That’s the number one rule….unless you are planning a year ahead of time.  There are enormous numbers of weed seeds in any soil and tilling up the soil brings up all those weed seeds to the light and they start to grow.  You do have to deal with weeds and you will lightly till/scratch in a shallowly.  But this is time to leave the tiller in the garage.

  • Don’t use weed killer

Especially don’t use the weed killers for your lawn or those with pre-emergents that stop new seeds from germinating. Those will have long-lasting effects that will thwart your wildflower growing efforts.

  • Weeds:

You will have to deal with weeds especially if you have an area that is pretty barren of other vegetation.  People have good success with putting down black fabric or cardboard weeks ahead of time to suffocate the weeds.  For big hunkin’ weeds like dock, it’s good to get the shovel out. You can’t get all the weeds, but after you put your seeds out, you won’t be doing any weed-pulling for a while because you’ll accidentally pull the new wildflowers or disturb their young roots. Replacing weeds with wildflowers will be an ongoing process.

  • Scratch and Rake

You do need to break the soil and rake it smooth, but not more than 2-3 inches deep.  You want little crevices for the seeds to slip into so they have a cozy home.  I’ve had the best success by loosening that top couple inches of soil and waiting a couple of weeks for all the weeds to germinate. I then scratch up those weeds, rake again, and then put the wildflower seed out.

  • How Much To Plant

One ounce of seed (a small packet) plants about 100-150 square feet.  (eg 10 feet by 15 feet.)  Follow this rule of thumb.  Planting more than this makes the plants choke each other out.  Planting less gives weeds free run.

Expert Tip:  Mix some sand with the wildflower seed to make it easier to spread the tiny wildflower seeds evenly.  About four parts sand to one part seed.

 

  • When to Plant

If you live someplace mild and humid, you can plant almost anytime.  The rest of us either plant in the Spring (about one month before last frost date) or Fall.

  • Water

That’s the biggest challenge for many.  If you aren’t living in the above mentioned mild and humid area, you need to be sure the wildflowers get enough water.  One gardening buddy said her secret was to go out and seed the night before a big snowstorm and let the melting snow help.  I personally use row cover over the area to keep water from evaporating.  I also use a soft rain nozzle to hand water over everything.

Our website has a Resources Section with more detailed instructions on seeding wildflowers. https://www.bbbseed.com/wildflower-grass-tips/

 

That’s really it.

Pick an appropriate wildflower mix.

Get rid of the huge weeds and prepare the top couple inches of soil.

Plant.

Water.

Wait for Nature to do What She Does Best: Create beauty for you and food for all the wild creatures.

 

Before and After Pictures are some of my favorite things.  The Habitat Heroes program has awesome before and after pictures that will inspire you:

Photo Credit:

http://rockies.audubon.org/get-involved/habitat-hero-winners

A Parking lot median at the West View Rec Center in Westminster, CO, before and after

02.15.16 'Planting Wildflowers' WestViewRecCenter

02.15.16 'Planting Wildflowers' WestViewRecCenter2