Greengirls Helen Yarmoska, Nicole Hvidsten, Martha Buns, Connie Nelson and Kim Palmer 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.

Posts about Critters and pests

Start building the hives!

Posted by: Helen Yarmoska Updated: April 29, 2014 - 8:57 AM

I am a beekeeper.  And even though this is a gardening blog, I hope you don’t mind if I talk about my bees a little bit.  They are fascinating and they play a pretty big role in the circle of life of gardens.

Like gardeners, beekeepers enter Spring very optimistic.  We picked up our bees from Nature’s Nectar on a beautiful sunny morning a week ago.  Put two boxes filled with about 7,000 bees each in the back of our SUV and headed north.   It was windy on Monday, but dry.  Late afternoon, we suited up, sprayed the bees down with a little sugar water and shook them into their new homes.  We have two boxes, two live queens, a bunch of sugar water – everything is peachy.

The next morning, the bees were out and about checking out the neighborhood.  The apiary is in a good location, basswood trees, dogwood bushes and plenty of water within a mile.  Nothing blooming at the time, but they have sugar water (carbohydrates) and substitute pollen (protein), so they have what it takes to start working on growing the hives.  (Little did the bees know that it would be SNOWING this morning!)

Not everyone can keep bees.  It freaks out many of my friends when I tell them that in August, we have about 30,000 bees less than 20 feet from our deck at the cabin.   Really, they are more help than harm.  

Over 35% of human food relies on pollinators.  Aspen, birch and many of trees of the woods could not survive without pollinators.  The seeds the birds eat are all pollinated.  There are over 300 species of bees in Minnesota – over 18 of bumblebees alone.  

Unfortunately, pollinators are dying.   

The reasons are numerous, and as a Hennepin County Master Gardener, I’m waiting for the “official word” from the University of Minnesota before I start shouting.  For now, I’m spending a couple hundred bucks on bees.  Giving them time and sugar and hoping that they help my little corner of the world.  Maybe if I’m lucky we’ll get some honey to enjoy.  

If your neighbor asked you if they could keep bees in their back yard (or deck or roof) – and city laws were not a factor – would you give them permission?  

Look what the birds planted

Posted by: Kim Palmer Updated: September 17, 2013 - 10:48 AM

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?

Where the bees are

Posted by: Martha Buns Updated: September 12, 2013 - 12:46 PM

Most of the year my garden has had to rely on wasps as pollinators, with the bees conspicuously absent. But last week I noticed my garden was suddenly bee central, with swarms of them orbiting some basil plants that desperately needed topping.

I don't know why they finally descended upon my yard. Maybe they're just picky eaters and the fall asters and goldenrod are more to their liking than the spring and summer blossoms.

What's your bee population been like this year? And has it been constant throughout the year or are you also seeing a late season influx? Bee mavens: What causes bees to shift territories mid-season?

While I'm happy to see them -- something as a child I could never imagine saying about bees -- they did increase the degree of difficulty points once I finally got around to harvesting that basil. But the pesto was worth it.

Oh, and I learned it's really hard to take pictures of something has twitchy as a bee.

Next year's garden trends

Posted by: Kim Palmer Updated: September 3, 2013 - 12:24 PM


The growing season is winding down, but trendwatchers are already looking ahead to how we'll be gardening next year.


So what crops, methods and looks will be hot in 2014? Here are a dozen top trends from the Garden Media Group, presented  by trendspotter Suzi McCoy at the recent Garden Writers Association Symposium in Quebec City: 

1. Ground up. Food scraps are the new recyclables, according to McCoy. About 25 percent of Americans are currently composting and building their soil from scratch, and more will jump on the compost bandwagon, inspired by new user-friendly compost products.

2. Super Foods Super Models. The veggie-growing renaissance that emerged a few years back is still robust, with more gardeners branching beyond the basics to grow hard-to-find specialty veggies, fruits and herbs.

3. Drink Your Yard. Homegrown goes liquid, with more gardeners growing hops for homebrew, grapes for wine, ingredients for craft cocktails and "green smoothies." Homemade pickles and kimchi also will be big. "Fermentation gardens are the new chickens," according to Rebecca Reed of Southern Living.

4. Dress Up Your Yard. Outdoor living enthusiasts are in the mood to accessorize, using artsy pots, chandeliers and other "garden jewelry" to add flair to their landscapes. 

5. Bee-nificials. Pollinators are in peril, and consumers are primed to help, planting pollen-rich natives, moving away from monocultures and adding habitat, both natural vegetation and bee-friendly innovations such as "bee hotels."

6. Cultur-vating. Locavores are taking local to the next level, embracing plants that are local to their region but mixing them with plants from other cultures.

7. Simple Elegance. Gardens are taking a cue from fashion with color-blocking and other simple-yet-high-impact color schemes, including classic black and white.

8. Frack'd Up. Neat clean lines are passe. The trendiest gardens will feature fractional shapes such as triangles, circles and squares. Umbels -- a flower shape featuring spiky stems topped by round clusters of blooms -- will be especially popular.

9. Young Men Get Down and Dirty. Who spends the most money in the garden? Right now, it's young guys, ages 18 to 34, who shell out $100 more than average during the growing season. They're growing food for grilling, hops for homebrew and peppers for homemade salsa.

10. Think Gardens. As more people get the message that plants help us de-stress and work smarter, look for more outdoor garden meetings, indoor gardens at work and even desktop gardens.

11. Fingertip Gardening. Gardening goes digital. Instead of asking friends and neighbors for growing advice, we're now turning to the Internet and mobile apps.

12. Tree-mendous Reversal. Between development and pests, we're losing 4 million urban trees a year -- and we're increasingly aware of what that's costing us -- environmentally, economically and emotionally. Thus, we're going to be planting a lot of trees, trying to restore our arboreal balance.

That's what's in. Here's what's out, according to McCoy. "Fairy gardens are over," she said. (Although I'm not sure Minnesota gardeners are ready to let go of them, judging from the many fairy gardens entered in this year's Beatuiful Gardens contest.)   

So now it's your turn to weigh in, fellow gardeners. Which of these trends resonate for you? Which ones will you be embracing? Or ignoring?  




Posted by: Martha Buns Updated: August 8, 2013 - 8:14 AM


OK, so I don't like crawly things in general, but I really dislike them in my garden since they're most often after something I'd prefer they didn't eat.


This one is a new one on me. At first I thought it was a big rolled-up leaf on the sidewalk, but then I realized it was the fattest green worm I'd ever seen. My first instinct was to smash it to kingdom come before it could do any damage. My second was to run for my camera and the Internet to see what I was up against first.

It turns out that if you Google: extremely large fat green worm, you get a lot of hits, and several image hits that look like this creature. My first thought was hornworm, but my second was some sort of sphinx moth in the making. Since the only worm I'm really fond of is a book worm, I'm more into etymology than entomology, and don't share the same enthusiasm some people clearly have for finding obscure roly poly green blobs in their path.

So those of you who know, what is this thing, and how worried do I need to be? It's about three inches long. For perspective, that's a piece of small bark mulch in the upper right of the photo. I did an inspection but so far haven't found either more like it or any sign of what it might have been eating to get that healthy. I found it the morning after the recent storm, so perhaps somehow it was knocked out of a tree.

I do know that some worms are beneficial, and I avoid stepping on monarch caterpillars, but somehow this one strikes me as more foe than friend.

I realize it's no plague of locusts. And I'm still thankful that I don't face the same gardening menaces that my grandmother did. While homesteading in Wyoming, she would send my grandfather out armed with a hoe to dispatch the rattlesnakes before venturing out to weed and harvest. They came back with a box full of rattlesnake tails, and tales. So as always, it could be worse.

What's your least favorite garden visitor? Slugs are right up there for me.


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