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.
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.
I'm a sucker for new colors in the garden. When those black petunias were first introduced a few years back, I was all over them, tucking them in my pots and beds to add visual depth and drama.
A couple years ago, I decided to add more natives and bee-friendly plants to my landscape. I bought some coneflowers, among other things. Naturally, I was attracted to the newer, brighter and more unusual colors -- the vivid magentas and corals -- instead of the plain old light purple coneflowers that everyone else had in their garden.
But new and unusual isn't better when it comes to providing forage for bees and other pollinators, according to Heather Holm, a Minnetonka landscape designer/consultant and author of the new book, "Pollinators of Native Plants." (www.pollinatorsnativeplants.com)
New cultivars, in eye-candy colors, may catch your eye at the garden center, but they may not appeal to bees at all. "If breeding has changed the flower color, it may not be attractive bees," Holm says. "It may look better to us. But it can change the fragrance or nectar. Stick with straight species, if you can."
Those showy double flowers, too, can make it harder for bees to access nectar. "Stick with simpler forms," Holm says.
If you really want to help bees, Holm suggests you rethink how a pollinator would see your garden -- "not just doing what you think is the prettiest, with double flowers or brand-new introductions with a cool color."
Bees also need a continuous succession of flowering plants throughout the growing season, Holm notes. "In most gardens there is a gap" -- typically early spring or late fall. So if you want to nurture bees through September and into October, add some fall-flowering plants such as asters and goldenrod.
Are bees on your garden radar this growing season? Are you doing anything different in your garden to make it more bee-friendly?
I didn't plant sunflowers this year -- or any other year, for that matter. But I've got gigantic 5-foot-tall sunflowers now blooming in my back-yard garden.
I noticed them sprouting there a couple months ago. They've never sprouted there before. But my husband discovered birds this spring and bought a bird feeder, which he filled with sunflower seeds and placed on the deck.
That deck is right above my garden, which is how I wound up with sunflowers.
From a strict garden-design standpoint, the sunflowers aren't a great addition to my garden bed. Theyr'e way too tall, compared to what's planted around them, and look kind of silly. But I can't help smiling whenever I see their sunny yellow faces.
They provide a welcome burst of bright color, at a time when the flowers around them are winding down.
And -- best of all -- they've turned out to be irrestible to bees. I don't know what kind of sunflowers they are, but every time I venture outside, morning or evening, bees are buzzing around them, and camped out on the flowers and even nearby leaves.
The three new flowering natives I planted this spring with bees in mind haven't done as well as I expected. One plant died after a few weeks. One stayed tiny and never flowered. The third plant, a coneflower, thrived and attracted a few bees. But nothing like the sunflowers, which are bee magnets.
What are the bees liking best in your garden this September? And did your garden have any surprises up its sleeve?
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