Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Leaving 2008 - Hello 2009!

Well, the balmy weather didn't last. Right now it is about 18 degrees out there with high winds and blowing snow. Actually, I enjoy the cold and snow -- it's a good reminder that it's still a few months before I can actually do anything outside. (I tend to jump the gun every year!) Anyhow, I'm enjoying my bee forage plant research and have met some really nice folks online who have offered comments and suggestions as to plantings, etc. Thanks all -- and keep 'em coming! :-)

On "The Melissa Garden" website they publish a list of forage plants aimed at honeybees. Elderberry shrubs are mentioned. It gave me pause to consider that not only should I focus on herbs and flowers, but I will need blossoming trees and shrubs in the sanctuary for more all around appeal for pollinators.

So I started cruising the web and eventually contacted a winery that specializes in elderberry wine where they grow their own berries. The vintner said that bees do indeed go nuts for the blossoms. He sent pics of huge shrubs in bloom and they were breathtaking! He also advised as to which type of elderberries seem to get the most attention. Great info (thanks Jack!). Since then I've tracked down a good supplier in NY from which I will be ordering a collection of 8 rooted cutting of 4 types of elders this coming spring.

Now I'm going to confess here, that I've never really liked elderberries and much much prefer blackberries (*drool*). But my choices for the gardens now are not aimed at pleasing myself anymore. It's for the pollinators and so elderberries it is! And while the bees will forage on the blossoms, eventually there must be those berries to deal with! ;-) Ah well.... I can only hope that the birds will enjoy the harvest. But should there ever be an over-abundance, I will make good on my plan to make juice, jams and jellies and then give it away to folks that help and support me in this sanctuary project. A true 'thank you' from the bees and pollinators.

Now I think it's time to put out some more food for the birds, throw another log on the fire, refill my coffee, and then just veg out for the rest of the year.

I wish us all well in 2009! Take care and 'bee good' .

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Repair, reuse, recyle

Once again Ohio has displayed its whiplash weather and slammed on the winter brakes, rolling in some very warm (and windy) days for the holidays. It got up to 60 degrees yesterday and I was able to enjoy a couple of hours on the deck with coffee and seed catalogs. suh-weet!

I also had a nice walk-about to check the garden beds. Everything was in order so I moseyed back to the new ring garden and saw a lot of deer tracks in the soft dirt. While filling some of the deeper holes I was very happy to see that in nearly every leaf-filled clod I turned over there were earthworms going to town. Great! Already the ring garden is attracting the right kind of crowd. :-) I wished the wrigglers bon appetite and promised to replenish their shredded leaf supply in early March. Glad I saved back a really big pile of leaves!

As to my 'forum quest' I'd like to thank Jean for putting forth a very good suggestion regarding my last post. While I have been in email conversation with the GW forum folks about establishing a 'Pollinator Garden' forum, I hadn't given consideration to using the existing Bee/Beekeeping forum as a viable alternative to requesting a new forum. Though I had previously posted in that forum a time or two about pollinator gardens (with no response), I didn't pursue the subject.

Well, duh! Why not? I mean, good grief! Repair, reuse, recycle has been my standard for decades. Why limit that concept to physical things like paper, leaves, furniture, clothes, etc. I should revisit the lethargic Bee/Beekeeping forum, continue to post about pollinator gardens and gardening and, with luck and persistence, find like-minded individuals looking for community and conversation with regards to pollinator gardens and sanctuaries. Can't hurt.

Who knows? There may be others lurking around that forum hoping to find suggestions on how to attract and support some of our planet's most important insects to their gardens.

Game on. Keep your fingers crossed!
More garden buzz soon.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Ho-ho-hoping for a forum

I always look forward to the Winter Solstice (tomorrow) because then the days will start to get longer again. Yay! The sun is so far south now and rises so late and stays (seemingly) so briefly. But I honestly don't think I would enjoy gardening in more southern climes where (like my friend in southern Florida) a person has to garden all year 'round.

I guess, having been raised in northern climes, my own inner cycle needs the same dormancy of our hardy perennial plants hereabouts. Besides, there is much to do during the cold months: planning vegetable gardens, research pollinator forage information, seed starting in the basement (well, maybe waiting until Feb-Mar), and other 'inside' projects, like finding ways to share bee/pollinator garden information.

Regarding the latter, I'm trying to convince a well-respected and very informative online forum: the iVillage GardenWeb to include a forum dedicated to Pollinator Gardens . Currently this site has a forum dedicated to "Bees and Beekeeping", but there is no conversation or information here for gardening for bees/pollinators. The forum that exists is apparently aimed at 'dealing' with bee- and wasp-like insects or working with domestic hives and honey production, neither of which has anything to do with designing gardens to support wild/feral pollinators.

Pollinator gardens and such sanctuaries are not about raising bees for fun/profit or how to get rid of a yellow-jacket nest. It is not about 'working with insects'. It is about understanding that in order for us to continue to benefit and enjoy the results (fruits, vegetables, flowers, etc.) of pollinators they need to be healthy and prolific. And right now they are neither.

Sterile landscapes, sterile lawns, the loss of open fields to 'development', all these activities make it difficult for pollinators to find reliable food (and in some cases, medicinal) sources. Remember, while domestic honeybee hives (the ones succumbing to CCD) are 'in the news' thus getting popular attention, many other types of bees, wasps, hoverflies, etc pollinate plants and crops that honeybees do not! There is a division of labor, so to speak.

Anyway, if you subscribe to iVillage GardenWeb (and I highly recommend it, the people there are helpful and kind and just plain nice folks), please take a moment to drop the administration a note suggesting that a forum devoted to bee sanctuaries or pollinator gardens would be useful - a forum where the PLANTS and PROCESS is the subject, not the insects that (we hope) will be attracted by, and benefit from, our efforts.


HAPPY HOLIDAYS to all (and 'bee' good! ;-) )

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Looking ahead

It's kinda difficult to post about bees or other pollinators when the 'long dark' is upon us here in Northeast Ohio. Frigid temps (12F right now) and blowing bitter snow almost denies what's to come next Spring. And honestly, we're just really getting into Winter! *sigh*

While bed development is at a standstill, at least there is ample time to add to my knowledge base of individual types of bees, hover flies and butterflies that the gardens will serve. Knowing which bees prefer what type of habitat will make the sanctuary more effective.

And here is a nice site that has lots of info on bees.

Take, for instance, the MASON BEE.

The pictures at the top of the post are not mine, but I found them in Google Images. The first one is a Red Mason Bee and the next one is a Blue Mason Bee.

I've never actually identified a mason bee on the property, but it may be that I have little for them to gather nectar or pollen from that early in the season. (Although I do have 3 crabapples...hmmm.) According to the above site, "blocks of wood with holes drilled in them attract nesting bees. These nest blocks are hung from trees or are placed in shelters for protection from the weather."

This is a pic is one of many commercial mason bee habitats that come in different configurations and materials. The bottom line is that these bees want a little tunnel to stock with a wad of pollen/nectar, lay an egg, seal it up, then repeat the process out to the end of the tunnel.

Well, mason bee habitat sounds like a fine winter project. While it's easy to find websites that actually sell these sorts of mason bee blocks, I'm going to rummage through my stash of cedar and make up some of my own. (Or, if cedar is too 'fragrant' to their liking, I also have plain old pine 2x4's that shouldn't offend. ;-) I'll put the drilled blocks in different locations and see if any of the little darlings take me up on the offer of free rent! If they actually nest and the pupae develop, then there'll be new bees awakening every Spring right in the gardens. How cool is that?