Greengirls Helen Yarmoska, Nicole Hvidsten, Martha Buns, Connie Nelson, Kim Palmer and Mary Jane Smetanka are dishin' the dirt from the back-yard garden and beyond. Whether you're a greenthumb or greenhorn, they're eager to learn from your mishaps, mistakes - and most importantly, your sweet successes - all growing season long.
If you plant them, they will come.
I'm talking about pollinators and the native plants that attract them and provide nectar and habitat.
The best thing in my inbox this morning was a short simple e-mail and two beautiful pictures. They were sent by Rich Erstad of St. Paul, a gardener I don't know, who just wanted to share the fluttering clouds of Monarch butterflies that started congegrating in his urban yard after he planted a cluster of native liatris.
It doesn't even have to be a cluster. Just a few plants can bring a noticeable increase in pollinator visits. Last summer, I planted one swamp milkweed plant in my garden. ONE! It quickly became a bee and butterfly magnet.
If you're heading to the State Fair this week, stop by the Minnesota Department of Agriculture booth in the Ag/Hort building. The department has launched a public awareness campaign to protect pollinating insects, and has developed best practices for homeowners and other land owners. Here are a few simple things you can do to protect pollinators and invite more of them into your landscape:
1. Plant more flowers in your yard or on your balcony.
2. Let early dandelions flower -- they have nectar.
3. Leave areas of your lawn un-mowed.
4. Reduce pesticide use.
5. Find pollinator protection information on pesticide labels.
6. Set out water bowls and birdbaths for pollinators to drink.
7. Let clover grow and flower.
8. Start a beehive.
What are you doing in your garden to make it more pollinator-friendly?
Remember last year's Edible Estate? That was the front yard in Woodbury where an artist/horticulturist tore up the traditional lawn and replaced it with a dense forest of food crops.
So what's going on this growing season, now that the Schoenherr family is on their own, with no donated plants or free expert help?
Pretty much the same as last year -- that was the surprising news when I visited the family last week. They're still growing more than 100 edible crops, covering almost all their large suburban front yard. About half of last year's crops returned or self-seeded. The rest -- about 1,000 plants -- they started from seed in their basement, under grow lights.
Now that they can choose their own crop mix, they're growing fewer eggplants, but they've added some new edibles, including tomatillos and borage.
And their gung-ho neighbors, who dug in last year to help tend the mini-farm in their midst, are still at it, showing up for weekly "garden nights" to help pull weeds and help themselves to some produce.
"We really do have a lot of help," said Catherine Shoenherr. "It wouldn't be very fun to do this by yourself."
How has the family managed to turn their private front yard into a community garden? Find out in next week's Variety Home + Garden.
Walking along Franklin Avenue Friday after work, I was passing a tiny front-yard garden when something caught my eye. Bees, two big fat ones, were busily foraging among the coneflowers.
I paused to watch them in action, marveling at their ability to find the few flowers in an urban forest of concrete.
Bees, their decline, and the important work they do to pollinate our food supply, are getting a lot of attention these days. If you're interested in learning more about how to protect bees, provide habitat or maybe even start keeping bees, head to Lyndale Park Gardens on Thursday evening. From 5 to 8 p.m., there will be a free " Pollinator Party" on the lawn near the Lake Harriet Peace Garden.
The event brings together scientists, educators and beekeepers, with opportunities to learn about everything from urban beekeeping to making your back yard more bee-friendly. But it's also a fun event to stop by and just hang out, with live music, activities for kids, food and beverages to purchase, and at dusk, a showing of the Disney movie "Wings of Life."
For more information, visit:
Last fall, I discovered how to get dozens of beautiful luscious maggot-free apples from my back-yard tree. Make sure a nest of wasps make their home nearby.
I planted the Cortland apple tree - fertilized by the ashes of my deceased cockapoo - 15 years ago. But fall after fall, the apples were pocked with icky dimples made by adult apple maggot flies laying their eggs. I didn’t know - and didn’t want to find out - if there were still maggot larvae inside. Only deer and other critters were brave enough to eat them.
So I decided to try organic methods to stop those darn flies from turning my apples into a feast for larvae. I tried the sticky traps, slathering clear sticky stuff over big red balls that were supposed to attract the egg-laying flies. But they weren’t fooled by the decoy balls because my apples were still fully-infested come fall. Plus they sure were a pain to clean before storing for winter.
I’ve also considered trying the bagging method, which a colleague does religiously every summer. When the fruit is about the size of a walnut, enclose each one inside a plastic sandwich bag and staple it shut. Snip the bottom corner of each bag with a scissors to let water run out. But by the time I remember to do it - the fruit is way bigger than a walnut and it’s too late.
Last summer, I was sitting on my deck, resisting the urge to stain it. Then I spied a gray wasp nest, the size of a papier mache pinata, suspended in a crabapple tree about 10 feet away. Of course, I worried that I would get stung by the wasps or they would dive-bomb me when I was gardening. But I never heard a single buzz from the colony.
By fall, I was harvesting bucket after bucket of apples pretty enough to fill a bin at Whole Foods.
What the heck happened to the tenacious apple maggots? My internet research revealed that the wasps devoured them.
By winter, the wasps had abandoned the nest, and now it’s pretty much disintegrated. So I’m hoping and praying that another wasp queen will make her home in my very welcoming crabapple tree.
How do you prevent apple maggot infestation? Have you had an unexplained great crop of worm-free apples?
The woman on the hunt for hosta looked familiar. It was Betsy, my former neighbor. I hadn't seen her since the Greengirls plant swap two years ago, and before that for at least a decade.
It was great to catch up with her, trade notes -- and point out people who had hosta to swap.
That's what's fun about a plant swap, as opposed to browsing for plants at a garden center or even the farmer's market. There's more personal interaction as swappers make the rounds, check out what's available, then circle back to make a trade.
"Where's Helen?" asked a gardener tempted by the seedling tomatoes she spotted in a swapper's labeled stash.
"Who has horseradish?" another swapper asked. "Anyone seen any?"
Swaps bring out interesting people. I met seasoned green thumbs, like the woman who was turning her urban corner lot into a pollinator garden. I met enthusuastic rookies, like the guy who didn't know what plants he was bringing home and didn't care -- he just wanted to start his first garden.
One woman arrived very late, as the swap was winding down and the Greengirls (the Star Tribune's garden bloggers) were gathering up the leftover plants that hadn't found a home. Many of the orphan plants were a bit bedraggled, but the woman was happy to have them -- she tends a garden at a school with disabled children and needs all the plants she can get, she said.
If you didn't make it down to this year's swap, come join us next year. You'll find great plants and great people -- maybe even a familiar face, like a long-lost neighbor.
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