Hibiscus

The Color Of Summer

Staying away from social media for almost two months proved very productive.  I don’t mean to offend anyone who has been reading my blog or bloggers I’ve been following but I needed time to reflect, get things done and read books.  I did get a lot of things done, have read more books and even started baking again.  Now I’m back, refreshed.

Summer is really here with extremely high temperatures and humidity.  Aside from sunflowers and echinacea, another flower that represents summer really well is hibiscus.  I have two hardy hibiscus in the garden, ‘Plum crazy’ (plum color as it’s name suggests) and ‘Midnight Marvel’ (deep red flower with maroon leaves).  Their flowers are almost the size of a dinner plate.  I put them in the ground in a sunny spot and left them there.  I cut the dead old stems back to two inches above ground in spring, feed them and let them be.  They have come back up every year when the heat hits the area.

Hibiscus-Plum Crazy
‘Plum Crazy’ with plum color and very large flowers. This one has been at this spot for more than five years.
Hibiscus-Midnight Marvel
‘Midnight Marvel’ with eye-catching flowers and leaves

The tropical ones need a little bit more pampering as they have to stay in pots and go back in the basement in winter.  They need to be watered and fed regularly.  They also need plenty of sunlight.  With food, water and plenty of light they will flower continuously throughout summer.  I prune them once a year in spring so they won’t grow too big.  Flowers that develop before I take them to the basement still bloom but they rarely produce new flowers until they come back outside again.  Spider mites and whiteflies are the main pest when they are inside the house.  I spray them with insecticide soap to keep the critters under control inside.

Hibiscus 'Bon Temps'
I have been growing ‘Bon Temps’ in a pot for three years. It’s still doing well and flowering all summer.

I purchased the ‘Voodoo Queen’ last year because I wanted to see if the color really changes as the nursery claimed, though I hardly have space left for more plants in the basement.  She didn’t disappoint me.  Here are two shots of the same flower on the same day.

Hibiscus-Voodoo Queen-morning
Hibiscus ‘Voodoo Queen’ in the morning
Hibiscus-Voodoo Queen-evening
Her color changed to this color in the evening. Looks more like a Queen than a Voodoo Queen

With a few hibiscus on the pool deck and in the garden and 90 degree heat and high humidity, I feel like I’m in the tropics.  A little cool breeze would make it seem even closer to that reality.

After the Swarm

A Successful Split

One of our hives swarmed last month.  It wasn’t a surprise, but I didn’t expect them to do it this early since the weather has been seesawing with cold temperatures, rain or wind.  I put off inspection of the hives because of the weather.  I knew from the last inspection that the hive in question came out of the winter with a lot of bees but there were no queen cells.  I thought the weather would make it more difficult for them to forage for food, staving off any early swarming.  But I was wrong.  They swarmed on a sunny day and didn’t even stop in the garden.  They just took off headed for the woods.

As soon as the swarm was gone, I opened up the hive and found plenty of queen cells.  I promptly split the hive.  I moved a whole super, not just a few frames, since there were too many bees in this hive.  I also made sure to scrape off all the queen cells but one- the biggest one.  I added one new super to this new hive, closed the top entrance with a screen, reduced the bottom entrance to an inch and tucked a clump of grass in to close it off.  They will clear the grass to free themselves eventually.  Then I fed them.

As for the main hive I split from, I added a new super to the remaining two supers.  I also scraped off all queen cells but one.  I didn’t spend time looking for the queen.  If she in there she will kill off any  emerging potential queens anyway.

I inspected the new hive two weeks later.  A beautiful queen has emerged.

Bee-queen
A beautiful healthy looking queen, the one without the dark color bands

I inspected all hives yesterday.  They all looked great.  All have brood combs with uniform patterns and with pollen and honey on each side of the frame.  The main hive that swarmed, that I made the split from has built up the population and has plenty of honey already.  I may have to split it again to keep them from swarming.

Bee-brood
Uniformity of brood with pollen and honey at each end of the frame. Queens in all hives have been doing a great job of laying eggs.

The season is still young and there are plenty of flowers around.  Hopefully I can take a couple of honey frames next time I inspect them.

Growing Jasmine

In A Cold Climate

There are many types of jasmine and most of them prefer warm weather.  I love jasmine and refuse to be deterred by cold weather.  When I lived in an apartment I grew a couple of Arabian jasmine (Jasminum sambac) on the windowsill as there was plenty of sun on that side.  Now I’ve moved further north and have a garden, I grow more of them and more varieties too.  But they live outside only in late spring until early autumn, then back down in the basement during winter.

In winter all my tropical plants stay under plant lights, with the timer set from 8 am to 7 pm.  That includes the jasmines.  There is no extra heat provided aside from a furnace that heats the house.  The flower buds that developed while they were outside will still bloom under the lights.  I stop feeding them when they are in the basement to prevent them from growing too lanky.  Plant light isn’t the same as the sun, of course, so they still try to reach up to the lights, but still grow more slowly than they will outside under the summer sun.

Jasmine
Arabian jasmine in bloom in summer

Two problems with growing jasmine inside are spider mites and root rot.  To get rid of the tiny spider mites requires monitoring, checking the leaves for them before there are too many of them.  When my jasmine were small, I gave them a shower once a month.  Put them in the bathtub and spray them with water both top and bottom of the leaves.  This will provide them with moisture in a dry winter house as well as washing off the mites, if any.  Once the plants get bigger, if I find mites, I spray them with insecticide soap (approved by OMRI for organic gardening use) and mist them with water once in a while.  Too much water will make their roots rot.  I will let the soil dry a little before I water them again.

When spring arrives and nighttime temperatures will stay above 50ºF, I take them outside, let them enjoy real sunlight.  I start feeding them a month before I take them out.  I also prune them at this time; cut out dry, weak, crossed branches or branches that are too long for my liking.  I also remove most of the leaves from the plants, my grandmother’s method.  Jasmine leaves grow in pairs, remove them alternately.  This will encourage them to grow new leaves and flower buds.  Then I feed them monthly while they are outside.

Jasmine
New leaves sprouted after most of the old leaves were removed
Jasmine
Plenty of lovely flowers and a sweet fragrance in summer

I let the flowers bloom on the plants if we plan to sit outside in the evening so we can enjoy their fragrance. I pick the flowers and keep them in the house, especially in the bedroom since the fragrance has a calming effect.  I also put them in water to infuse their scent into it.  Cold jasmine water is very soothing for a hot summer day.

With attention and care a jasmine plant will last for a long time.  Some of mine are over 15 years old and still bloom profusely every summer.

 

Happy Birthday Anton Janša (1734-1773), the first teacher of modern beekeeping by Ron Miksha

More information on World Bee Day.

Beekeeping365

World Bee Day was initiated in Slovenia, Europe, and has been quickly catching around the world. For example, German Chancellor Angela Merkel concluded a major speech Wednesday with a rousing endorsement of World Bee Day, telling members of the Bundestag to do something good for the bees:

“I want to finish with something that some may consider insignificant but is actually very important: on May 20 is the first World Bee Day. On this day we should really think about biodiversity and do something good for the bees.”

World Bee Day became World Bee Day after a successful campaign by the country of Slovenia (Anton Janša’s birthplace) to promulgate the message. Their petition to the United Nations was accepted in December 2017, so this year marks the first official World Bee Day.  I’ve been following (and promoting World Bee Day) ever since I heard the effort was…

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World Bee Day

Time To Recognize Our Little Friends

The United Nation has designated May 20 as World Bee Day and this year is the first observance of this day.  I’m so happy that the importance of these little pollinators is finally and officially recognized globally.  Hopefully it will bring a change in the rules and regulations to help make the environment safer for them, protecting them.  You can read more about World Bee Day here.

We keep a couple of honeybee hives in our garden but we don’t just put up hives for our honeybees.  We also put some structures up for native bees as well.  There is a good variety of native bees in our garden and they are avid pollinators, especially Bumblebees.  Some are an annoyance like Carpenter bees which love to drill holes in our patio beams to put their larvae in.

In honor of the World Bee Day, here are some of the little, hardworking friends in our garden.

Two native bees working together on Echinacea
Bumblebee on Borage
Sweat bee on Echinacea
Wool Carder bee on Thai basil
Bee on Goldenrod. I’m not sure what it is. It’s too hairy to be our common Bumble bee.
Mason bee on Yarrow
Bees on Onion flower. I think the one on the left is a young Bumble bee.
Cuckoo bee on Dill
A male Carpenter bee on Butterfly bush. Male has white marking on the face.
Honeybee on Common Milkweed

More information about bees:

  • Bees in your backyard: A guide to North America’s Bees by Joseph S. Wilson & Olivia Messinger Carril, ISBN 978-0691-160771
  • Bee: A Natural History by Noah Wilson-Rich, ISBN 978-0691-161358
  • Bumblebees: Behaviour, ecology, and conservation by Dave Goulson, ISBN 978-0199-553075
  • Bumble bees of North America by Paul Williams, Robbin Thorp, Leif Richardson & Sheila Colla, ISBN 978-0691-152226
  • Mason Bee Revolution: How the hardest working bee can save the world one backyard at a time by Dave Hunter & Jill Lightner, ISBN 978-1594-859632
  • Our Native Bees: North America’s endangered pollinators and the fight to save them by Paige Embry, ISBN 978-1604-697698
  • Bees of the world by Charles D. Michener, ISBN 978-0801-885730.  This is more like a text book.

Update On Bird Families

Busy Raising Families

This is a busy time of the year for us as well as the birds.  We are busy with garden chores-cleaning up, pruning, feeding and planting.  The birds are busy building their new families.  The Bluebird’s eggs have hatched and the parents have been making endless trips feeding five chicks.  They are growing up really fast.  It will take around 15-20 days for them to fledge after hatching.

May 6- four eggs have hatched
May 10-All five eggs have hatched
May 13-Fine down & feathers and sleeping soundly

A pair of Tree Swallows have finished building their nest and started to lay eggs. The second pair was chased out of the garden by the first pair every time they checked that nest box.

May 10- Tree Swallow first egg
May 13- Four eggs or five (lower left corner behind feather)?

While the House Wrens are still picking, choosing and building decoy nests in any empty boxes they find, two pairs of Chickadees have already laid eggs.  One on each side of the yard.

May 11- The first pair of Chickadees have four eggs since May 7, not yet hatched.
May 14- The second pair of Chickadees have three eggs or four?

Having made the destructive & nasty house sparrows unwelcome in the yard, we’ve become home to the colorful & friendly.  Now the yard lights up daily in a delightful symphony.

 

Spring Colors

Getting Vibrant Again

Spring is finally here or should I say summer is finally here.  The temperature was over 90°F for a couple of days which broke the record.  I’m not complaining after months of snow and freezing temperature.  The plants in our garden are not complaining either.  They’re pushing out shoots and buds all over the garden.  Dragging on as winter did, spring is still giving us a very promising new life especially after the recent rain.

After we successfully fended off the deer for the last two years, and relocated the last rabbit last year, we decided to grow tulips in the garden again.  I’ve been planting tulip bulbs I rescued for years but only a few of them survive the animal raiding parties.  But as I didn’t spend a penny on them, it didn’t feel very wasteful.  Last autumn, I picked tulip bulbs from the catalogs for the first time and they’re looking good so far.   Hopefully these beautiful flowers will come back up next spring.

Mixed color tulips accompany our ‘Pollinator Habitat’ sign.  By early summer this area will be filled with variety of flowers especially the ones that have plenty of pollen and nectar

We cannot be certified a ‘Wildlife Habitat’ since we’ve fenced off most of the four-legged locals around here: deer, rabbit, woodchuck, raccoon, skunk, fox and coyote.  We would’ve welcomed fox and coyote but once the deer net went up, that was it.  Access to the garden is limited to birds, insects and small rodents.  Any gardeners who have a problem with deer, I would recommend a deer net.  It’s the only thing that works.  I no longer have to spray a mixture of garlic and rotten eggs in the garden or use other methods only to find that they aren’t effective.  The fact is there aren’t any plants that the deer will not eat.

Anyway, we have colors and the scent of perfume in our garden again after a long wait.

Primrose after rain
Bleeding heart is another indicator of the Hummingbirds arrival
Hellebore is one of the flowers I grow as an early spring food source for bees
Common blue violet, a beautiful weed soaked in rain

It’s nice to see colors again.  It’s even nicer to see not just our honeybees but many local bees getting busy looking for pollen and nectar.

 

 

 

Spring Vegetables

A Good Head Start

We installed a cold frame in our vegetable garden in order to have some fresh vegetables in winter.  We did get some cold loving vegetables like Chinese Broccoli, Swiss chard, kale, carrots and mustard greens.   Several times the vegetables inside wilted from the cold when we couldn’t get access.  In the middle of winter when snow piled two feet up the frame, we couldn’t get the door open without a lot of digging.  But it still gave us a good head start for spring vegetables and we get to have fresh vegetables early in the season despite the seesaw weather.

The seeds I sow in November like spinach, Bok choi and mustard greens, sprouted early and became our first salad crops.

Inside our cold frame, the taller spinach are the one I sow in November last year

Then I sow more cool weather vegetables like Mizuna, Shungiku (Tang Oh), Chinese broccoli, Corn salad, arugula and more of spinach and mustard greens in March when I got access to the inside. These will become our second crop.

I sow this patch of Mizuna in March. It ‘s great for salad and soup
Mustard greens from seed in winter grow among arugula
I usually thin the Bok choi so they will have room to grow bigger. I use the ones I pull out in salad
Shungiku or Tang Oh or Edible Chrysanthemum love the cooler temperatures. I prefer them in soups

Since the cold frame has no ventilation, early spring is when we have to be careful.  We need to leave the door open on hot days otherwise the vegetables in there will be cooked.  I devote this patch under the cold frame for growing leafy vegetables because it provides shade during the summer months.  Once the plastic is cover removed, I grow Bitter melon and beans and let them climb up the frame as they provide shade for the vegetables below.

With a couple days of heavy rain other vegetables in the garden double their size.  Asparagus shot up a few inches a day with rain.  We were supposed to cut them when they reached six inches high but…

We didn’t have time to cut the asparagus when they should have, but they still were delicious
Siberian garlic

After it was fed and with plenty of rain, our garlic, both Siberian and Rocambol garlic, got much bigger very fast.  We had a good garlic crop last year and still have some left in the basement.  So far this year should be good too.

 

 

Back From Wintering

Almost A Full House 

The temperature is still seesawing, but most of the migrating birds have reached us on their usual schedule.  The Tree Swallows (Tachycineta bicolor) have finally settled in one of the bird boxes and have started building their nest despite harassment from the House sparrows.  We really have to keep an eye on this one to make sure that the sparrows don’t rout them.

A pair of Tree Swallows settling down

The Baltimore Oriole (Icterus galbula) came back as soon as the flowering fruit trees like cherry and pear here blossomed.  One of them was waiting patiently at the feeder station for the welcome mat.  We promptly cut a few oranges and put them on a tray for them.  It didn’t take them long to dive in for the juice, they must be hungry from their long flight.

Male Baltimore Oriole
Enjoying the welcome mat of fresh Tangerines which is what we had on hand when they  arrived.

Gray Catbirds, Rose-breasted Grosbeak and Chipping sparrows are also here.  The first two still play hide and seek with us; every time we took the cameras out they flew off.  The Chipping Sparrow (Spizella passerina), the smallest sparrow around here, are not camera shy.  The Ruby-throated Hummingbird haven’t reached here yet.  Only the Bleeding heart flowers have start to bud and the Columbine still have a long way to go.  We use the blooming of these flowers as an indication of the arrival of the Hummingbirds.  The Columbine is a more reliable reference.

Chipping Sparrow and Goldfinch share a feeder

In the mean time, the resident Eastern Bluebirds (Sialia sialis) took no time in starting their family.  So far she has laid five eggs and any day now we’ll will see the first chick.

Eastern Bluebird family. She’s back with building material.
Five beautiful blue eggs of the Bluebird family.

The Black-capped Chickadees (Parus atricapillus)  have almost completed their nest construction.  It looks very comfortable with moss and a fine hair lining.  It will be a couple of days before we see the first egg.

Chickadee nest: lining the bottom with moss and the top with fine hair

We are only missing the Ruby-throated Hummingbird but they should reach our garden soon.  A flight from down south on their tiny wings takes a little longer than the others.

 

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