As much as I want to complain about the heat and heavy rain, the garden seems to enjoy it. The lawn that I haven’t invaded with extended garden yet is lush green. Vegetables and flowers are growing profusely. Except for tomatoes, the heirloom types don’t do well at all. And insects, they follow their food in.
We are happy to see more Monarch butterflies (Danaus plexippus) this year. They are not just visiting the flowers, they also mating, laying eggs and producing a new generation in our garden.
I keep checking underneath Milkweed leaves for their eggs and caterpillars. I found some eggs but it’s hard to look for caterpillars especially when they are small. They are very good at hiding. But, I did find some….
Seeing them in all stages in our garden makes us happy to be contributing to slowing down their possible extinction. Hopefully they can make it safely back to Mexico for their winter hibernation.
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.
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 atime 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.
I see the spring light at the end of the tunnel, a little dim but still a cheerful light of hope. Snow still covers the majority of the garden but in the bare specks there are colors. Crocuses in the front yard bloomed nicely this year. Last year they became deer food. At least deer left the bulbs alone so they came up with a variety of colors. We planted a lot of crocuses in the previous two autumns to provide early spring food for our honeybees. Many of them became food for squirrels, chipmunks, deer and rabbits but the survivors continue to come up in spring before disappearing underground again.
Our back yard is still covered with snow but it’s melting fast with high daytime temperatures. Some tulips and daffodils braved the cold pushing themselves up above it.
And, look at the busy girls. Yes, we call them girls because the worker bees are all female and they’re like our children. The weather is warm enough for them to go out foraging and most of them came back with baskets full of pollen. They’ve also taken in water from the birdbaths.
Spring is here after all. Thank you Mother Nature for giving us a break from the Nor’easter in the last few weeks.
Spiders can evoke nightmares and cause many people to pause or scream. For us, they are friends. We have plenty of them in the garden and some in the house which we don’t mind as long as they stay in the corners. I should point out that they keep the house flies in check for us. The webs they create always fascinate me especially when there is dew on them.
I don’t have to waste words extolling their natural beauty…
The population of Monarch butterflies (Danaus plexippus) has been dwindling down to a point of concern that they may be heading toward extinction. With a small patch of garden, we try our best to help them by letting the Common Milkweed (Asclepiassyriaca) grow. It’s the only plant that Monarch caterpillars eat.
I didn’t grow the first milkweed. It came to our garden around three or four years ago. The seeds are airborne but I had not seen any milkweed around our area then, but I may have overlooked it. Though it falls in the ‘weed’ category, I let the first one grow anyway. Then I fell in love with its fragrance. The first lone milkweed has grown into a large patch now and we try to keep them confined to one spot. They can be pretty invasive; every spring I have to pull out the ones that sprouted in the middle of the lawn or flower plots. We also let them grow in the spots that are out of the way so as not to over-crowd the other plants.
Aside from enjoying its fragrant and beautiful flowers, it’s also host to a variety of insects both friend and foe of the garden. This year we are seeing more Monarchs so we have started to monitor them more closely. It has taken us a few years to be registered on their homing GPS as one of their destinations. I guess they decided that our garden is a reliable food source for their caterpillars and young adults so they lay eggs. We were so happy and excited close to the point of obsession. We checked on them everyday!
Only a few of them survived. I don’t know who might eat them. Most likely wasps have taken them for the future youngsters in their burrows. But a few are better than none. Hopefully the ones that were born in our garden survive the long flight to Sierra Madre, Mexico, and the winter to tell the next generation where our garden is.
I came out to make coffee in the kitchen this morning and found an unexpected guest resting on the kitchen sink. I can’t really say ‘unexpected’ since I expected him to show up sometime in the near future but not this morning. He has been lounging in his chrysalis next to our kitchen sink for the last couple of months, a totally different outfit. This morning he came out fully dressed in bright yellow and just sat there staring at me. I have no idea how long he had been there, in his new outfit. Here he is…
I found him a couple of months ago when I picked some Swiss chard from our cold frame. I didn’t want to put him in with the stuff to be composted because I know that he’ll transform to a butterfly one day. I set the Swiss chard stalk by the sink where it dried out and shrunk. Every time I had to do something at the sink, I checked on him.
I didn’t expect him to come out this morning but it’s a great thing to wake up to. Really made our morning. I have no idea whether he is a Sulfur or a Cabbage butterfly. It didn’t matter what he is, I offered him breakfast anyway. I dropped some sugar syrup that I made for our honeybees for him and left him alone. I came back a few minutes later and found he had moved to it.
And, his old cloth that he discarded
I went out to the garden for a while to do some pruning and to feed our honeybees and when I came back in, he was nowhere to be found . He didn’t show up for dinner either.
Tomorrow, December 22 will be the official first day of winter but Mother Nature didn’t get the memo. Day time temperature will be over 50° F for the next few days and night time will not be much lower than that. In fact, in this area Christmas Eve is predicted to be 70° F during the day.
The sad part of this unseasonably warm winter is that plants and animals are fooled by it. They base their life cycles on the seasonal temperature changes. When it’s cold they hibernate or go dormant in order to conserve energy when food is hard to find. But when it’s too warm bears will come out from hibernation. Cherry trees will bloom in Brooklyn. Our honeybees came out looking for food too. Luckily they are domesticated so we feed them. But what happens to the wild honeybees? There are no flowers for then to get nectar or pollen from.
Aside from our bees, plants in our garden are also fooled by this weather.
I don’t know what this winter will turn out to be. If the ‘rural legend’ of Wooly Bear caterpillars (Pyrrharctia isabella) hits the mark most of the time, this winter should be a warm winter. According to the text in ‘Caterpillars of Eastern North America‘ by David L. Wagner, the legend says the width of the orange band can be used to predict the severity of the upcoming winter; the narrower the band, the colder the winter.
This Wooly Bear on my glove told me the winter will be pretty warm, see how wide the orange band is. But maybe he was just stretching.
We are having a warm autumn this year. The daytime temperature is still hovering above 50° F on most days but drops back to slightly above 30° F at night. We had frost for a couple of days early on in the season which killed off most of the garden. So there is not much left for the bees.
Honeybees being honeybees, they still come out looking for food when the temperature is above 50° F and to relieve themselves as well. We had fed them in mid-October but now we still worry that their food storage may not be enough for a winter that has not yet come. Since they spend more energy flying around instead of semi-hybernating in the hive during this time of year, they probably have gone through more of their storage than usual. So we are putting sugar syrup out on warm days. They know exactly where the feeder is and zoom right to it. They still go for any flowers they find blooming at this time of year: Alyssum, Chinese broccoli, Broccoli raab and…Saffron.
I should have grown more saffron but I always start small with any newbies. If it fails I haven’t wasted much. My fellow blogger suggested that I may be able to leave them outside since they are hardy to zone 6. I will leave one pot out as an experiment. If they are like other crocuses that bloom in spring (which I grow in the ground) they should be fine. Then I can have plenty of saffron for tea and cooking, and plenty of food for honeybees in late autumn.
Anywhere I look in the garden I see buds on stems and branches. New shoots sprout up from soft cold ground. Some leaves start to unfurl and early flowering plants and trees are blossoming. A new colorful season has started, a new life cycle.
Spring is always a busy time of year for me. I have started to do a little clean up. The soil is warm and still moist enough to start feeding the trees and roses and mulching should keep it from freezing if the temperature drops for a night or two. Cleaning, feeding, pruning, transplanting and sowing new annuals will take much of my time in early spring. Then comes a time to sit back and enjoy it all in late spring and summer.
While I was doing the clean up, I found a few Lady beetles (Harmoniaaxyridis) hiding in the base of plants so I put back the dry leaves and left them alone. A couple of them were out on the half unfurled rose leaves, helping me clean up small pests that I couldn’t see. Their population seems to increase every year which I don’t mind at all.
A friend who gardens asked me if she should buy a ladybug package for her garden. I told her ‘no’. There is no point since no one can keep beneficial insects locked up in their garden. I told her to improve her garden condition, forego pesticides and chemical fertilizer. Once there is plenty of food and shelter, they will come to stay.
Below are variety of Lady beetle from last year.
Before they become these cute looking beetles, they are in shape and form below. If you see them crawling on leaves, don’t kill them. Both lady beetle adults and larvae will help you get rid of aphids. Ok, the larvae are not cute but they make up for looks in doing a great job.
I’m glad they are in our garden one generation after another. Thank you for helping me keep the pests in check.