Don't miss the 2014 Master Gardener Learning Tour!
Saturday, July 12, 2014 9am to 4pm
Our annual tour features eight beautiful gardens designed and maintained by Hennepin County Master Gardeners. This year's tour is located in the Northeast, Southeast and Longfellow neighborhoods including historic Prospect Park.
Unlike other garden tours, we offer education in addition to inspiration. This year's gardens show real life examples and solutions on a number of gardening trends and topics. You'll learn how to:
Channel Your Inner Rain Garden, Support Pollinators, Create Colorful Containers, Get How-To About Hops, Make Compost Happen, Love Your Lawn, Grow Your Own Food and Conquer That Shade.
Here's the link:
Lawns, people love 'em or loath 'em. I'm not in the group that thinks all lawns are evil. There's a time and a place for grass. Lawns provide cooling effects, places to play and a spot for your eye to rest in the garden.
But acres and acres of turf that only exists to be mowed, well there's gotta be something better. Actually there is, consider planting a bee lawn. What's a bee lawn? It's a less than perfect carpet, a combination of cool-season grasses and low-growing flowering plants that produce nectar and pollen for vital creatures like bees and butterflies.
People used to have bee lawns but they just didn't know it. Before lawns received attention from lawn care companies they often were infiltrated with white clover, and tolerated. In fact, lots of grass seed mixes contained clover seed as well. The clover not only fed the bees, it produced seeds for birds.
Clover increases nitrogen in the soil improving its health and decreases the need for fertilizer. Not bad, huh?
Not every yard is a candidate for a bee lawn. But within every yard there might be a place for some type or small area for a bee lawn. Sloping areas where kids don't play sports or backyard areas that get little usage are good spots to try this sort of "turf". You could just leave the edges a little wild.
When I lived in England I was always fascinated by all the tiny flowers within our lawn that created a meadow effect. As you can see in this grainy photo there were small daisies, buttercups and clover. Rather than weedy, it was wonderful. Of course that was a milder climate, but there are hardier plants up north that might do the same thing.
Researchers at the University of Minnesota Bee Lab are trying to develop a bee lawn seed mix that would contain low-growing, foot-tolerant, non-invasive, pollinator-friendly plants. Their hope is that it could be used in places where traditional lawns still are the preferred look, like cemeteries, commercial landscapes and golf course edges. Bee lawns would also reduce the need for water, pesticides and fertilizers.
Meanwhile you could create your own bee lawn by overseeding the area with white or alsike clover. Simply letting your lawn go will not give the same effect. You might get a situation that could be described as weeds without benefits (to the bees). Once your bee lawn is established, make sure to mow high enough to avoid cutting off the buds and flowers.
Just as I began to think about what to plant in the window box, a duck planted herself instead. Hmm I thought, a more suitable tenant for the garden than the nest of bunnies I wrote about last month. What could a clutch of ducklings bring about but a few moments of waddling, quacking cuteness?
Mama duck in the window box, safe from four-legged creatures
I did wonder about the height of the box. At almost six feet above the ground, I worried about when it came time to make the descent to local water. Others told me she was a smart duck, placing her brood above possible predators like the neighborhood foxes. I read up on duck behavior and found out that sure enough the ducklings, pliable and bendy at birth could indeed survive the fall.
As time passed I watched her pattern of sitting and leaving, each time an ivory egg deposited to join the others in the nest. A mother duck doesn't start incubating until all the eggs are laid. I counted six eggs from my upstairs spying spot. And occasionally I would grab a step stool and peer at her through the small garage window.
Five eggs so far in the perfect circle of downy feathers
Documenting her progress from up close would bring about a huffing, puffing, literal hissing fit. Although she did get used to my daily presence in the garden. Sometimes I forgot all about her and then I would look up to see her watchful and waiting.
Towards the end of the 28-day incubation I started to worry about mama duck in the hot south-facing location. One day she appeared to be almost passed out. I took her a shallow dish of water which ticked her off. I splashed her with a bit of water. Not pleased with that either. Then I saw her fly away for a few minutes, toward the creek between the two lakes, a water break I bet.
Meanwhile lots of news stories on wild baby animals appeared, the general advice being, don't intervene, the mothers know best. So I trusted mama duck to know what she was doing.
Yesterday I noticed broken eggshells and hurray, ducklings. I facebooked and instagrammed the sweet little guys with a #makewayforducklings hashtag like a proud grandma. But still I wondered how she would keep the wiggly things in the box. Too soon I heard a constant cheeping as I sat on the porch. The first escapee running through the rhubarb had me retrieving it and taking it back to the nest. Mama duck protested.
I placed large cardboard boxes underneath to catch them before they were ready to leave for water, according to research, ten hours after hatching. I went to check a little later and found a sad, sad sight in the nest. Six ducklings dead. Instead of keeping them warm, the heat had killed them. Mama duck was squawking as I looked.
I went away wondering how long she would stay. And then I thought again. I grabbed a slotted spoon from the kitchen and prodded her to reveal one more duckling still alive. I scooped it up and placed it the water feature on our patio. It bobbed. Mama duck scolded me and flew off to the front yard.
I improvised a makeshift island and ramp to compensate for the steep sides all the while to the tune of constant quacking. I went inside and watched until she returned. The quacking continued while the duckling swam and nibbled. Then it jumped out and waddled away with her mom through the yard. The creek is a quarter mile away.
I couldn't watch anymore.
Bees get thirsty just like you and me. They are out seeking water as often as they are foraging for nectar and pollen. They find it in places like puddles, ponds and creeks. They drink from the tiny beads of water collected in a leaf. But they are just as likely to search it out in dog dishes and birdbaths. Damp laundry on a line will do.
Water lilies, a beautiful water source for bees
Bees need water for more than just a cool drink on a hot day. The bee version of air conditioning uses a film of water placed over the cells of their hive, which some of the worker bees then fan for evaporative cooling. Water is used to dilute honey to feed larva. It's also needed to dilute crystallized honey during winter.
Bees gather and transport all this necessary water in their crops. They then transfer it to other hive members for whatever purposes are required at that time. It accounts for lots of trips between hive and water source.So a consistent, reliable source saves energy.
It is said that bees like "aged water". An explanation may be that water with some algae in it has a notable smell whereas bees haven't evolved to detect chlorinated water. Yet why do they always land in the pool?
Birds and bees both prefer a shallow water source where they can stand or cling to a platform of sorts while they drink. Providing a safe source may be as simple as using landscaping rocks or pavers with shallow indentations that accumulate rain water. Bees may be using your water feature or koi pond already, so make sure there are some floating plants they can use for secure footing.
Hopefully any water source provided specifically for bees is free from pesticide runoff.
Dr. Marla Spivak, noted bee researcher at the U suggests floating tennis balls in the birdbath. This gives them a fuzzy surface to cling to while drinking.
And finally there's a "bee waterer" project going around the internet right now. It's a shallow saucer or basin like that of a flowerpot or birdbath. It's filled with inexpensive marbles that florists use in vases for anchoring stems. Water is added so that the bees can make their way over the marbles while drinking in the crevices in between.
Lately I've been adding foliage to my landscape that has the potential to collect water like the Hosta 'Abiqua Drinking Gourd', lady's mantle or water lilies. I'm always interested in seeing plants from a bug's-eye perspective and this is a fun way to evaluate your plants for possible habitat value.
For years I’ve been saying that herbs are the best plants anyone can grow. They’re easy and forgiving. They’re tasty and fragrant. They’re beautiful. And one more thing, they’re great for bees.
Plant an herb garden and let it grow for a while. Pinch and pluck the leaves for any number of uses, like cooking or cosmetics, eat the flowers, eat the foliage, go for it, because most herbs love to be sheared and pruned; the act of harvesting actually makes them grow fuller and bushier.
Then do something for the bees. Stop snipping and picking half of the herbs, or more if you’re feeling generous, and allow them to bloom. Herbs are always trying to bloom, you’ll see their stems start to lengthen like in the case of oregano or sometimes the leaves grow smaller and even change shape, as does basil or mint. Pretty soon the flowers will be covered with bees.
Bees love herb blooms because many consist of lots of little florets, perfectly shaped for browsing and foraging. When bees can work over a large number of blooms in a small area, it helps them to save energy while increasing the amount of nectar they can consume. Herbs save them from making extra trips back to the hive and that’s a good thing.
Bee on fennel flowers
Yes, herbs are easy to grow. But some gardening publications will say they thrive on neglect. It is true that established plants can survive without much attention, but whether planted in the ground or in containers a new herb garden needs care at first; lots of sunlight, well-drained soil and adequate water. (And no matter what you see on Pinterest, you can’t grow herbs in Mason jars. Without a hole for water to drain, they will quickly rot.)
Here’s a list of herbs to start your bee-friendly garden. Get bzzzzy!