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.
Bees are fascinating! They are always telling you something, and they are great reactors to the environment. One of the first years I kept bees, we did not get any honey. My bee-mentor explained to me, “Helen, you’re a farmer. The bees react to the weather and your crop is honey. Bad weather, bad crop.” What wonderful words of wisdom Bob bestowed on me that day.
This past week, the bees were definitely reacting to the environment! This photo shows seven queen cells on one side of a frame. To explain how they are telling us something, let me first do a little Queen 101.
There is only one Queen per hive. Each hive holds about 40,000 – 60,000 bees. The majority of those bees are undeveloped female workers. The hive communicates through pheromones (scent). If the workers sense the Queen is not doing her job (not laying eggs fast enough). Or if they don’t like where they are living right now, then they will make another queen.
They do that by taking an egg that would normally develop into another worker bee, feed it royal jelly, and create a larger cell for the larvae to develop. The cells are those long hanging things you see at the bottom of the frame in the photograph. Royal jelly is super concentrated pollen and nectar. Worker bees have a honey gut (a place to store honey and nectar inside their abdomen). The nurse bees (they take care of the baby-larvae) concentrate the nectar and pollen by passing it back and forth between nurse bees. This concentrates everything good and nutritious for the bees.
Developing a queen is not easy. They need to really work at it. Besides becoming fully mature and able to lay eggs, another major difference between a queen and a worker is that the queen’s stinger is not barbed. A worker bee, should it use it’s stinger, will die because like a fish hook, the stinger stays with the victim. A queen, however has a stinger closer to a wasp. No barb, so multiple stings are an option.
Should one of these queen cells develop and a new queen hatches; she finds each of the other queen cells and stings through the cell to gain victory. Simultaneously, worker bees are touching her and passing her pheromone on to others. The current Queen-in-standing realizes there is another queen in her presence. Her subjects ‘tell’ her it’s time to leave (they have known this for some time and sent scouts out to find a new home). So she and several thousand bees leave the hive to the new queen and her new subjects.
That story tells us that the bees right now in our hive are not happy. Could it be that they are tired of the rain and want to go back to California? Or do they feel the hillside is a little too drafty? Or are they mad we took away the sugar water a couple weeks ago? That we don’t know -- if only we had smellivision.
If this keeps up, we might wind up with that water feature I've always wanted. The heavy rains are starting to form a spontaneous creek through the back yard, rearranging the mulch as it carves out a channel.
The rainfall in the gauge this morning was shy of half an inch, which in some summers would count as much-needed relief from a dry spell, but in the current stretch counts as a nearly dry day.
We've been luckier than some nearby: we have no downed trees, flattened peonies, dropped power lines or standing water in our yard. There's a mini lake in the low spot in the alley behind our garage, but the birds are having a field day with the impromptu bird bath.
My only real beef with all this rain is that it's creating a garden vs. gardener speed mismatch. I tried dodging rain storms and insistent mosquitoes this past weekend to harvest greens and curb the weeds, but I'm clearly losing ground. The copious rains that have produced rain-forest lushness in my hosta bed have triggered equal or greater growth among the weeds, and brought out slugs to boot. It's also slowing up some last-minute planting, since I try to avoid planting in mud and even my well-drained hilltop location is mushy.
On the plus side, the rain barrel is as full as the leak part-way up will let it get. (Note to self: Try to seal that after we drain it this fall.)
How is your garden holding up through all these storms? Is it time to bring back moats as a landscaping feature?
Patience has never been a virtue of mine, and this spring is testing every shred I have. The perennials are poky. My peonies are still just small stalks, with no buds in sight. My hydrangeas have a few new leaves emerging, but so far, they're tiny and tentative.
My junipers, usually a reliable source of evergreen color, are instead brown and crispy. I can tell the plants are alive -- there are areas with green needles -- but they're patchy and parched-looking, so ugly that I was itching to take the clippers to them and prune out the brown sections.
I resisted the urge, on the advice of Jeffrey Johnson, woody plant specialist for the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum. "It's been a long winter, and people are frustrated," he says. "Landscape plants took a beating, and there's a lot of pent-up gardening energy." But even at the Arb, where there's pressure to get gardens looking good as quickly as possible, there's been very little pruning of brown evergreens.
"We're still taking a wait-and-see approach," he says. "This has been a very reluctant spring, and it's very difficult to tell where dieback stop and healthy starts. Even through the foliage is brown, there could be live tissue."
"The best thing to do for evergreens might be nothing at all," agrees Mark Stennes, a St. Paul arborist and plant pathologist. Cool wet weather like today's should help.
By next week, gardeners should have a much better picture of what they can safely prune, according to Johnson and Stennis. Look for new candles forming on the plants. "If you've got new candles coming in, you're fine," Stennes said. "If you don't see any buds swelling, it's toast."
In the meantime, try to ignore those ugly brown needles just a little longer.
Oh, Minnesota. You definitely keep things interesting, from a gardener's perspective. Especially in spring.
Just two years ago, it was so hot and balmy in early April that experts had to caution us to resist the temptation to put hot-weather crops like tomatoes into the ground prematurely.
This week, we're looking at a weather forecast with a couple of dips down into the 30s. It'll feel "more like October than May," as meteorologist Paul Douglas noted.
So where does that leave us, in terms of spring planting? The old rule of thumb used to be to wait until Memorial Day. But in recent years, Mother's Day has become sort of the unofficial kick-off to the gardening season.
This year, the old model is probably the safest model, at least for certain plants.
Cold-hardy plants can handle a nippy spring. Cool-weather veggie crops like broccoli and cabbage thrive on it. But it's definitely too soon to plant tomatoes and peppers. If you've already bought those plants or grown them from seed, keep them inside a while longer. It's best to wait until the soil temperature reaches 50 degrees before putting them in the ground.
Tropicals and houseplants that you want to bring outside for the season also should stay indoors a while longer -- until there's nothing lower than 50 in the forecast.
What have you planted so far? And what are you still sheltering indoors?
Greetings, fellow gardeners! Welcome to Minnesota growing season 2014, our long-awaited reward for enduring the winter from you-know-what.
Saturday was inventory day in my garden. I walked from bed to bed, front to back, peering at the earth to see what was coming up. Things are clearly off to a very slow, late start, despite balmy summer-like temperatures on Easter Sunday. My peonies are mere nubs, like rosy pinky fingers poking their way through the dirt. My sedums, delphiniums and ligularia made it through the winter, sprouting tiny, but healthy-looking new foliage.
Other perennials -- hydrangeas and black-eyed Susans -- are still slumbering below the surface, but I have faith they'll make their presence known soon.
Plant experts I've talked to this spring don't expect heavy garden casualties, despite all the subzero temperatures we experienced during the winter months. That's because the garden gods blessed us with a thick and relatively early blanket of snow, Mother Nature's insulation.
Minnesota-hardy plants should do just fine this growing season, although gardeners who experimented with borderline plants can expect to see some dieback.
If you have evergreens that are looking dry, brown and crispy, don't despair -- and don't prune just yet, caution tree experts. The condition is called winter burn, and there's a lot of it this spring. "We're seeing quite a bit of damage," says Jeffrey Johnson, woody plant specialist for the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum. "Pines, in particular, took it hard, and also some of the spruce."
Brown needles won't rehydrate and turn soft and green, but new growth may still fill in. "Let spring do its thing," says Josh Plunkett, nursery inspector with the Minnesota Department of Agriculture and co-author of "The Complete Idiot's Guide to Trees and Shrubs."
So keep those pruning shears in the shed, for now, and concentrate on other garden tasks.
What's going on in your garden? Are plants coming up later than usual?
|Annuals (67)||Books and resources (9)|
|Chickens (4)||Compost (8)|
|Critters and pests (46)||Farmers markets (14)|
|Flowers (113)||Fruit and berries (40)|
|Grasses (24)||Green gardening (28)|
|Lawn care (23)||Perennials (127)|
|Preserving (9)||Rain gardens (4)|
|Seed starting (14)||Soil prep (13)|
|Tools (8)||Transplanting + dividing (13)|
|Trees (40)||Vegetables (138)|
|Weather (78)||Weeds (27)|
|Weekend chores (65)|