With such a long, long winter and the spring that hasn't sprung, this year, of all years, many people may actually find it cheerful when those first dandelions show their sunny faces. I know I will.
More than just a cure for this dismal weather, dandelions are a key to bee survival.
The tide is turning against huge swaths of perfect and purposeless lawns. But many still feel that need to get out the weed and feed, hastening the demise of the innocent dandelions the minute they pop up.
Dandelions and lots of the other "plants out of place" are actually not always the evil invasives we've been led to believe. In fact, even Creeping Charlie has a benevolent side when it comes to bees. Mind you not every weed, especially ones designated "noxious" belong in our home landscapes, but there are quite a few that benefit wildlife.
Bees and other wildlife count on these "first responders to spring" for survival. Maybe we should start thinking of the dandelion as not a weed but a wildflower? And who goes around killing wildflowers.
Three Reasons to Love Dandelions:
1. Dandelions are an important first source of nectar for bees and other beneficial insects. Their blooms act as a bridge to survival for bees and other bugs that have managed to make it through winter until more plentiful blooms of spring appear.
2. Dandelions' stubborn and seemingly endless taproots help to break up soil and actually draw vitamins and nutrients closer to the soil surface.
3. As long as they haven’t been sprayed with herbicide they are one of many foragers' favorite early herbs. Added to salads and stir-fries they impart a bright and bitter flavor. Then of course there’s dandelion wine. I ate them on ravioli at a local food-centric café last year and they were delicious.
And don’t forget to make wishes on their fuzzy heads!
Use native plants in your landscape. Sounds pretty straightforward. But with so much emphasis on food-growing gardens the past few years, it's sounds a little decadent to plant pretty flowers, almost like a guilty pleasure.
Yet that's what bees need. Lots and lots of flowers. Hopefully lots of native flowers that they are best adapted to for gathering nectar and pollen. Insects and plants that have evolved side by side have the best synergy when it comes to pollination. These plants have adapted in accordance to color, flower shape, bloom time, and the insects have adapted with their body parts, diet and reproductive cycles to benefit from each other.
So it sounds pretty easy, you just look for the native plant label and there you go. Well sort of.
Bee on native sunflower Photo by Rhonda Fleming Hayes
Whenever there's an opportunity marketers will find it. Lots of plants are labeled native, but in a country as broad and diverse geographically as America, you'll find not every plant can be native to every place in America. A plant native to Oregon might not be the best for a Minnesota bee. So when you're shopping online or in person, do a little google search on the side with that plant. Try to find plants local to the upper Midwest, and more so to Minnesota. That's not to say other plants will be of no value, but those plants will also have the best chance of surviving and thriving in our climate and growing zone. More plant labels and catalog descriptions are starting to identify bee-friendly plants.
So are all non-native plants bad for bees? Not necessarily. There are lots of "exotics", plants that have been brought here from other countries that flourish in our state that bees find attractive. You have to go no further than Minnesota favorites like lilacs and hostas for example. But do avoid "double" flower forms and sterile versions of bedding plants and ornamentals that have little to no food value left in them.
A great way to figure out what bees like is to go looking for bees. What do they seem to go for? Bees do well when they have different flowers blooming as the season progresses. Bees benefit from large swaths of the same flower so they don't have to spend as much energy foraging.
Now after all this, some people still don't want to use native plants. They say they're weedy looking or invasive. Not necessarily. There are design strategies for dealing with these objections, like using some straight lines, employing traditional plant spacing, choose clumping forms, and limiting the number of species. For more detailed ideas I highly recommend the Landscaping with Native Plants of Minnesota by Lynn Steiner.
Still have questions about using native plants in the landscape? Feel free to comment or email through The Garden Buzz.
Bees, and other pollinators are the hot new cause. Thank goodness. And goodness is one of the big reasons. Imagine a summer without blueberry pie, or guacamole or watermelon, or your Aunt Leslie’s cucumber salad to name just a few. I don’t know about you but I don’t want to even try.
Certainly by now you’ve heard that “bees are responsible for every third bite” fact. Well it’s true. And you’d have to be hiding under a rock to have not heard about bee colony collapse and the other troubles facing pollinators, like the Monarch butterfly, around the world.
I’ve been writing and thinking about pollinators just about as long as I’ve been writing about gardening. In fact my blog’s name, The Garden Buzz is a tip of the hat to these incredibly important insects. It’s good to finally see the pollinators getting room in the press.
Photo by Rhonda Fleming Hayes
Fifteen years ago while taking a rest between watering and harvesting in my kitchen garden I sat down on the bench and started looking, really looking at all the tiny creatures buzzing around the veggies and flowers. It was one of those aha moments.
From that moment on my garden would not only feed my family but I made sure I was feeding and encouraging the wildlife that visited as well. For me it’s not a trendy cause but second nature to my gardening life.
This past week when I attended a talk by Dr. Marla Spivak, entomologist and bee guru at the University of Minnesota she mentioned the many ways everyday folks like us can help turn around things for the bees. But I loved her first piece of advice. She told everyone to take a chair out to the garden and watch the bees. I can only second her suggestion.
Here’s hoping you’ll have an aha moment too. As the gardening season begins in the following weeks I’ll be going into greater detail about each of the top ten tips for supporting bees that you can put into practice in your own yard. Feel free to email or comment any questions in the mean time.
Top 10 Bee Friendly Practices
1. Use native plants in your landscape.
2. Tolerate dandelions, creeping Charlie and other helpful weeds.
3. Plant an herb garden and let a portion of it bloom.
4. Provide a safe water source.
5. Consider planting a bee lawn.
6. Leave some bare soil and garden debris in your yard.
7. Support local beekeepers/buy local honey.
8. Avoid pesticides/apply responsibly only when absolutely needed.
9. Ask nurseries and garden centers to disclose and label pesticides.
10. Support legislative initiatives that protect pollinators.
Halfway through the doctors' exam, as she was going through the "when you fall" protocol, that series of questions meant to make sure you're ok, she asked me, "Don't you write for the Star Tribune?"
It's always strange when someone recognizes you from writing a few stories or blogging a bit. On one hand you're honored but on the other, it's like being exposed. Right, I have to remind myself that people actually read what I write. In fact there's a piece of writing advice that says to imagine a specific person and write directly to that person. Not for me. My life may be an open blog but I prefer you all to be a benevolent but semi-anonymous group softly chuckling at my musings, without making me self-conscious or embarassed.
Back to knockin' my noggin...No, I'm not recycling material for this blog post, I fell and hit my head, hard, again. And it hurt just as bad as the last time when I took that tumble in NYC. All I could think along with the shock and awesome pain was how, how did I do this? Again?
Since returning a week ago, I've been out walking several times, wearing my cleats or heavy treaded boots. In fact I had picked my way over slick glazing on the lake trails the other day, in mincing steps and scooching shuffles. Finally getting home, I thought, yeah, I'm testing my luck.
That led me to "just walk down to the coffee shop" on Tuesday. The sidewalks were dusted but everything looked ok. The orange cone down where it slopes ever so slightly didn't register. They were installing pipes before I left in January and there were cones everywhere. Apparently that particular orange cone was warning about a slippery spot.
Whoosh! And I was flat on my back.
I lay there trying to get my wits. The ice was cold and wet and seeping into my clothes but I couldn't get up. I heard several cars go by and then one slowed. A woman's voice called out, are you ok? I was truthful, I muttered, I don't know. She pulled her car around while I tried to stand up, but I had to kneel down such was the nausea. She tried to help me over the pile of crusted snow but I worried I would pull her down with me.
After several false starts a man appeared and hoisted me over the hump of snow. He found my glasses that had flown off my face. And then my savior drove me home. Late for a meeting she sat with me and then called a nurse from our street to come and sit with me when she left. I called a neighbor and she too came over, concerned about me. This was all extremely comforting since my husband was at that moment somewhere in the deep interior of Brazil with only spotty communication. To think I had been worried about him coming to harm.
So this is what it's come to for now, an indoor track. No ice, no fun. The snow can't melt soon enough.
I'd like to thank Louise, Jan, Donna, Dean and the nameless man for helping me. I haven't been lived here long but they re-confirmed that Linden Hills is a great neighborhood and I'm lucky to live here.
I don’t see dead people. That’s because I go out of my way to avoid seeing dead bodies, shunning the funerals of all but a few. Since I ran terrified out of my grandmother’s service as a nine year old, I’ve been averse to all aboveground death rituals.
But gimme a good cemetery and I’m happy to wander and wonder for hours on end, and oh, I hope I have my camera. While I’m away for the winter, I rent a small apartment across the street from historic Colonial Cemetery in Savannah. I trace the tabby walkways three or four times a day while walking the dog, day in and out, no matter the weather. And every day I see something new.
Mary Ann, wife of Moses. Frances and Constance, sisters, buried side by side. Eugene, barely arrived, from County Kerry.
A tomb’s brickwork pattern plush with deep moss. A mockingbird that perches upon the same filigreed stone. Pale green lichen on rotting marble that forms a face. Sad, sacred beauty.
So when that nice Nordic-looking lady on the TV commercial tells all her friends about cremation and how it’s the hottest thing going on, I get a bit steamed. Yeah, I get it; green burials make sense in my head, but not in my heart.
Misty morning at Colonial Cemetery, Savannah GA
I hate to think of the eventual demise of the cemetery.
Unlike some I’m ok to ponder immortality and roam among the tombstones ruminating upon the fragility and unfairness of life. I like the idea of an open-air historical archive of everyday folk even if some memorials are grander than others. Cemeteries are sculpture gardens with funerary art reflecting the attitudes of the time. They are botanical gardens where flowers flourish and rare species can rest undisturbed. They are places of pilgrimage and some of the prettiest parks in the world.
But then they don’t do death like they used to. Modern cemeteries, sleek as the uniform polished granite grave markers, lacking in art or drama are arranged for mowing efficiency over sentimentality. Worse when they only allow those flat markers people have to punctuate with their flowers stuck in cones at even intervals.
No disrespect is meant.
I understand. There are too many people nowadays. Land is scarce. That was already the case when Colonial Cemetery was active in the mid-1800’s. They can identify around 600 graves, but it is known that around 9000 people were buried on these few acres, many victims of the yellow fever epidemic. When I stray from the paved paths the ground is sunken in areas. In others, the ground has a strange, spongy feel to it.
Those thousands have no individual stone, but they have a place. Through the years thousands of people walk through here and for a moment, think about them, and that’s good.