We have a few days off for Thanksgiving and have spent most of our time grinding up leaves for mulch, fixing the deer fence to make sure there is no breach and planting crocuses and tulips. Autumn is the time to put in spring crocus bulbs. We put a couple of hundred bulbs in a year ago and love the way our lawn looks in spring. This autumn we put 400 more bulbs in. I don’t really like growing anything ‘bulb’ because most of the time they become squirrel and chipmunk food. However, taking our honeybees into consideration, I want to provide natural, early spring food for them. Crocus is one of the flowers that bloom very early and have plenty of pollen and nectar. They are also quite pretty and come in variety of colors. They will disappear underground by the time other flowers start to bloom.
I run out of space to put a lot of bulbs in so our lawn is the only place. In order to make them look natural, I bought mostly mixed color bulbs. I also bought individual colors of the larger variety and mixed them with the smaller ones. Cast them on the lawn then planted them wherever they landed. Last spring they came up before the lawn grew, creating a lovely natural effect. Multi colors of crocus bloomed randomly in early April. Unfortunately we lost all our hives last winter so the native bees had a great time.
Here’s a selection of spring crocus..
I’m missing a couple of colors, either the bulbs rotted or they became our furry friends food. We can hardly wait to see what our lawn will look like next spring.
We weren’t able to enjoy our tree peonies in the last two years as it was either too windy or too much rain which brought down the flowers as soon as they opened up. This year, though we had a lot of rain, there was a brief period without and it coincided with the tree peony blooming. Not just us enjoying the flowers, the bees were also busy collecting pollen from them.
We have only two tree peonies in our garden as they grow very large and don’t like to be moved once established. The ‘Nishiki’ has been with us for 10 years and is around 3.5 feet tall. It usually produces around 15 to 20 flowers each spring. We look forward to seeing how many flowers it will produce each year since it produces more flowers as it gets older.
It’s a flower that’s worth growing. It’s not fussy and doesn’t need much attention, however, it’s a slow grower. The beauty of the flowers make it worth the wait.
Winter is my time for basement gardening. Where we live we have to put our tropical plants in the basement for the winter. It’s a lot of labor to go through twice a year. We take them in when we know that the night temperature will drop and stay below 45°F, usually around late September or early October. Then take them back out in spring when the temperatures will stay above 45°F at night. It was easy when they were small but it gets much harder once some of them grow taller than us. But it’s always a pleasure to have them around. They keep me going in winter and give us fresh herbs even when the ground is covered with snow outside.
Tropical plants that are taller than us in addition to Kaffir lime and the Ficus, are the Water Jasmines (Wrightia religiosa), of which we have two, one over six feet tall and the other is around 1.5 foot tall. I grew both of them from seeds. I did try air layering once but that plant survived only a couple of years.
They never flower when they are in the basement. I guess it’s not quite warm enough and perhaps not enough light. The taller one gets very finicky with temperature changes too. It drops 95% of its leaves when we first take it outside or when we bring it back inside. Leaves and flower buds come out again after a month in full sun. The tiny white star-shaped flower has a light, soothing fragrance. Each flower blooms for just one day but there clusters of replacements ready to bloom in its place.
When they are outside and in full bloom, various types of bees, honeybees included, come for the nectar during the day and the moths take over at night. Its seed pod is also interesting, it looks like a wishbone. Once it’s matured the pods split open and release seeds with a silky thread attached that the wind will catch and carry to a new place. That is how I propagate it, by the seeds. The plant grown from a seed takes a few years before it will flower. Air-layer and cutting are recommended for faster flowering.
Water Jasmine is easy to grow in a pot, as I do. It needs a warm temperature and plenty of sunlight to bloom. It can be planted outside in USDA Zone 8 and up. If planting outside it can be used as a hedge. It can also be trained to create a Bonsai.
It seems to have no known pests when growing outside, however Spider mites are the main problem when growing indoors. I use an insecticide soap to get rid of them and mist the plant with water weekly. I’m looking forward to germinating some of these seeds in March and hope to have a few more to create Bonsai from.
Most people hate weeds, maybe with an exception for Cannabis. I don’t like weeds either but as I turn our little garden patch back to nature, to make it into a sanctuary for other species as well as ourselves, I have to learn to get along with weeds. When I walk through a farmer’s market, I also note that they sell many flowers we usually call weeds. Quite expensively too, for something you would like to get rid of. So, it’s still true that beauty is in the eye of the beholder.
Pollinators love weeds. There is no doubt about it as we try to eliminate them but they continue to proliferate with help from pollinators. Many of these weeds are also edible and have medicinal properties. As I’ve gained more knowledge about them, my perception has changed drastically and I have made room for them in the garden.
Here’s to beautiful weeds…
There are more weeds growing in our garden than what I’ve mentioned above. I’m fascinated by the fact that many of them are edible. I have not tried them all except for wild Daylily and dandelion. I’m also surprised that many of the flowers and herbs in our area are considered weeds someplace else.
Weeds of North America by Richard Dickinson and France Royer
Weeds of the Northeast by Richard H. Uva, Joseph C. Neal and Joseph M. DiTomaso
Edible Wild Plants: Wild Food From Dirt to Plate by John Kallas, PhD.
Forager’s Harvest: A Guide to Identifying, Harvesting,and Preparing EdibleWild Plants by Samuel Thayer
As I mentioned in the previous post, I left some vegetables and herbs flowering for pollinators and for seeds. It also helps to draw beneficial insects into the vegetable patch. The downside is that these beneficial insects don’t discriminate, they eat anything they can grab, honeybees and bumblebees included. But we never have to spray our vegetables.
There are many more herbs and vegetables in our garden as both of us love eating fresh vegetables and drinking herbal tea. Rubbing fresh herbs in your hands for the scent is also very refreshing. I think the herb pollen that mixes in with the honey is also a good medicinal property.
Next will be flowers for bees from what we love to hate….weeds.
A Good Time For Planning: Flowers For Pollinators I
Snow came down two days ago accumulating just three inches. Today the garden is still covered with snow and the temperature dropped down to just above 10°F. It’s a perfect winter day for bird watching through the patio door. Since the ground is covered with snow and the sources of water around here have turned to ice, they congregate around our feeders and heated birdbaths. It’s also a good day to start planning for the next growing season.
The plant catalogs have been piling up. I have picked out a couple of new vegetables I want to try and am now looking for flowers that bees and butterflies will like. A new Cosmos ‘Cupcake’ looks very tempting. I have already put 200 crocus in this autumn. If they haven’t all been dug up by the squirrels and chipmunks they should blossom when spring arrives. Any new plants I choose I make sure will benefit all pollinators, not just honeybees. If I have to pick and choose however, flowers for the bees will come first.
Here are some plants that work for our pollinator garden and I start with flowers:
These are just some of the flowers I managed to photograph with honeybees on them. There are many more flowers that they like- crocus, snowdrop, Black-eyed Susan. Next post will be on herbs and vegetables that I allow to flower, both as a pollinators food source and as the next season’s seeds.
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.
Summer is finally here and the temperature is making the point so far. We had a very cool spring which was very good for the roses and many other cool loving plants. Tomato, chili pepper and basil think otherwise. My basil are only a couple of inches tall and the chili peppers are taking their sweet time to grow. But I’m not complaining. I deal with whatever nature throws my way. It just seemed like ‘early’ spring weather lasted too long this year.
It doesn’t matter what the official summer date is, my summer is here when the Black-eyed Susan and Echinacea bloom. They brighten up the garden like little sunflowers. We have more flowers this year as a result of putting up the deer net around our property. We are really happy that the net works so well. Rabbits still nibble plants here and there but they stay in the lawn most of the time.
The Black-eyed susan are all self-sown. I don’t remember when I bought them last time, probably ages ago. I just let them grow and move them when they get too crowded. It results in many shades and markings on the flowers.
I let the Echinacea set seed as well. Birds love them and they are a good food source in winter. Seeds that the birds dropped sprouted. I don’t mind at all since they are slightly fragrant and the bees love them.
I bought many other Echinacea in various colors and shapes but they have to be propagated by division. Here are some of them.
There are still a few feet of snow in the garden and the temperature remains below the freezing point. There’s no sign of spring in sight aside from a few confused American Goldfinches that have started to molt early. We chiseled a path around the house but not much else. House bound, pretty much.
Reading books and plant catalogs keep me busy in winter. With plant and seed catalogs coming in non-stop, they have been keeping me going like a kid in a candy store. With limited space, I will only add one or two new plants a year. Since I started keeping honeybees four years ago, the first reason for selecting a new plant is whether it’s good for the bees and fragrance comes in second.
This winter I found an interesting book while searching for plants for bees; Garden Plants for Honey Beesby PeterLindtner. The great thing about this book is that it provides a variety of plants that bloom month by month, starting from February. The book also provides information on the level of pollen and nectar each plant provides, from (*) as the least and (*****) as the most. So, I keep going back and forth between plant catalogs and this book to make a decision for what to add this spring.
My friend, Andy, has given me an advance copy of The Triumph of Seeds: How Grains, Nuts, Kernels, Pulses, & PipsConquered the Plant Kingdom and Shaped Human Historyby Thor Hanson. It comes with a package of pea seeds. I’m not sure I will plant them since there is no indication that the seeds are organic. The book is a fun read though. I’ve learned a lot about chili pepper. I’ve been growing a wide variety of chili peppers for years and just realized how little I know about their biology and evolution until I read this book. I also learned that the coffee plant has developed a delicate caffeine balance to repel various types of insects and at the same time lures in pollinators that ‘lined up likemorning commuters at their favorite espresso stand’. It gave me the idea to try using coffee as a natural insecticide in my garden. The book won’t be in stores until April though.
Yes, late winter is the time for me to start seedlings. Side stepped to the subject of books and lost track while I writing this post. I will have to start my tomato and chili pepper seedlings this week otherwise they will not have enough time to mature and bear fruit. I will add Japanese Shishito, a very mild pepper and Indigo Cherry Drops tomato to the vegetable list. A variety of Helleborus will be added to the flower list for early spring flowering for bees. I can hardly wait to get my hands dirty.