Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Apiary Update

“The bee is more honored than other animals, not because she labors, but because she labors for others”
~Saint John Chrysostom

In case you are stumped, an apiary is simply where you keep your bee colonies. Also called a bee yard, it can contain one hive like mine or many hives. So my apiary is in my side yard, between my house and garden. I’m small potatoes compared to most,  at this time it’s a manageable size for me.

I’m happy to report that my bees have survived the winter admirably and are a VERY strong colony (meaning there are LOTS of them). In March, I opened up the hive for the first time this year, reversed the boxes, replaced several old frames of wax with new foundation, treated organically for mites, checked honey stores and looked for the queen or evidence of a laying queen. All checked out fine to my eye, so I closed it up again and left them alone for another month.

I opened the hive again yesterday and found that they are almost finished drawing out the new wax foundation that comprised the uppermost box (box #4, I use all western size), are storing new nectar in it and that the queen is laying there too. I didn’t see the queen but there were many eggs, properly laid in the bottom of cells and many, still standing indicating that they are only one or two days old. So over the 4 boxes containing brood (larvae/pupae), honey and pollen I added a queen excluder and added a honey super with new foundation since the top box was mostly drawn out and filling up with nectar. It seems early to do this to me, but as I said they are strong, and I don’t want to risk a swarm. They are working fast even though this has not been a stellar spring.

All evidence points to a busy, thriving colony and maybe, just maybe they’ll make enough honey for us too this year. This is their third year, each stronger than the last, but I haven’t taken any honey off as of yet as I never thought they had made enough for us and themselves. Honey bees store pollen and honey for their survival (protein and carbohydrates respectively) and if a beekeeper takes all or too much of the honey for him/herself, the bees will starve or the beekeeper will have to feed them (sugar/water syrup) for their survival till the weather warms and plants and flowers begin to bloom after winter again. Their natural honey is always the best dietary choice for them, and feeding them means more work for me so, I have left the honey. So far it has paid off…I didn’t have to feed them at all this year, which is a win-win situation for us all.

I realize I’ve used a lot of unexplained beekeeper jargon in this post. I apologize for not breaking it down more by way of explanation, it would probably be too lengthy. I know it can be confusing for those not familiar with bees, but hopefully you now have some insight into the life of bees and their keepers. In a nutshell…all in all, life is good in the apiary today!

Got a question? Click on comments!

If you want to explore the world of beekeeping more fully, I recommend perusing your local library’s shelves. Two excellent books on the subject are Beekeeping for Dummies by Howland Blackiston and Natural Beekeeping by Ross Conrad.

In bloom in my garden today: Syringa ‘Adelaide Dunbar’, Iris, Huckleberry, Geum ‘Lady Stratheden’, Viburnum davidii, Saxifrage, Bergenia ‘Winter Glow’, old fashioned Coral Bells (Heuchera), Tellima (Fringe Cups), Ajuga (Bugleweed), Solomon’s Seal, Wisteria, creeping phlox, Oxalis oregana ‘Wintergreen’, Dodecatheon (Shooting Star), Alpine strawberry, Heather, Daphne caucasica ‘Eternal Fragrance’ and ‘Summer Ice’, Wood Hyacinth (Hyacinthoides hispanica)

Bee on Huckleberry top photo courtesy of Pat Chissus

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

It Just Happened!

Science, or para-science, tells us that geraniums bloom better if they are spoken to. But a kind word every now and then is really quite enough. Too much attention, like too much feeding, and weeding and hoeing, inhibits and embarrasses them.
~Victoria Glendinning

Years ago it just happened to be our anniversary weekend, and we just happened to stay at a cute bed and breakfast up north, which just happened to have a Sunset magazine in the room, in which I just happened to read an article highlighting hardy Geraniums. The article just happened to mention a hardy Geranium mail-order/nursery/grower and profiled some rare varieties, one of which was ‘Lily Lovell’. The next day, we just happened to stop at a grocery store for some picnic lunch goodies and they just happened to have just received a nursery shipment. And guess what? There just happened to be a one gallon container of ‘Lily Lovell’! Of course I made it mine and do you know I’ve NEVER seen the fair ‘Lily Lovell’ since…anywhere! Just goes to prove the old adage…when you see it, if you like it, buy it.

There can be some confusion when we talk about geraniums. The brightly colored, large flowered, annual geraniums that grace pots and planters in spring are Pelargoniums also known as zonal geraniums. The mainstay of Germany’s window boxes, they come as upright varieties or the trailing ivy geranium varieties. Since our winters in western Washington can be mild we can often get the zonal geraniums to winter over, but usually they need some protection. There are also the tender scented geranium varieties that are only winter hardy in more tropical climes, unless you are lucky enough to have a greenhouse.

Not so for the hardy Geranium (Cranesbill). A true geranium, when it is planted in the ground they are a hardy perennial, and they look nothing like the Pelargonium plant. According to Sunset’s Western Garden Book, most are hardy in all zones with just one or two specifically hardy to zone 6 and to zone 9. Read the tag and know your zone before you buy. They sport a huge variety of leaf shape, leaf color and flower color too. The variety differences are endless. Some have leaves of deep purple color, some green, some a silver sheen. Some shamelessly seed themselves all over the place while others are very well behaved, slowly spreading and cooperative as we small garden tenders prefer. They are not bothered by any pests in my experience, including slugs and snails. I don’t know about deer, but since they do have an odor it may be worth a try if you and your deer friends have a disagreement over who your garden was planted for.

Over the years I’ve had many hardy Geraniums, but my two favorites are ‘Lily Lovell’ and ‘Mavis Simpson’ because they are well behaved and beautiful.

In my garden, Geranium phaeum ‘Lily Lovell’ (pictured above and right) blooms in late April through May, is nearly evergreen with large green leaves and has lovely purple flowers of reflexed petals revealing a white eye. It prefers morning sun and sulks if it gets a bit dry or too hot from later sun. I do cut off the stems after they flower (seeding issues) and it sometimes gives me a minor re-bloom later. The leaves stand about 12” (.30 m) tall and the flowering stems about 36” (.90 m). It started as a one gallon size plant and is now a 4’ (1m) diameter patch. It’s been slow to reach this size (more than 10 years if memory serves me) and definitely would be easy to keep smaller by digging up pass-along plants.

Geranium riversleaianum ‘Mavis Simpson’ (pictured below being enjoyed by a honey bee) on the other hand disappears completely in the winter. The fresh fuzzy grey green leaves start peeking out again in March and once the blooms begin about a month or so later, it continues to bloom all summer. The leaves are small compared to ‘Lily Lovell’ and from its basal location the stems grow each year to fill in spaces like a low ground cover about two feet (.60m) in diameter. It could be considered to be of a trailing habit, so would do well in hanging containers or spilling out of a pot. Overall the plant stays under 6” (15cm) tall. It does not spread underground and I’ve never had a seeding problem. Perhaps it is a hybrid, so the seeds would be sterile. I only trim this one when it encroaches upon its neighbors or the pathways. The flowers are pinkish violet with dark veining and light centers.

In my experience, my least favorite is Geranium phaeum ‘Samobor’. It has lovely burgundy marking in the leaves and dark cherry colored flowers but exuberantly seeds itself everywhere unless you are diligent at deadheading. I thought I was, but still found it coming up all over the place. I finally pulled it and it’s offspring out.

What a find ‘Lily Lovell’ was, all those years ago. Who knew she would be elusive ever since? Some days are just like that!

In bloom in my garden today: Bergenia ‘Winter Glow’, old fashioned Coral Bells (Heuchera), Tellima (Fringe Cups), Ajuga (Bugleweed), Solomon’s Seal, Erythronium ‘Pagoda’ (Yellow Fawn Lily),Wisteria, Tulipa ‘Gavota’, creeping phlox, Oxalis oregana ‘Wintergreen’, Anemone nemerosa ‘Robinsoniana’, Dodecatheon (Shooting Star), Alpine strawberry, Fritillaria, Primrose, Hellebore, Heather, Clematis, Daphne caucasica ‘Eternal Fragrance’ and ‘Summer Ice’, Wood Hyacinth (Hyacinthoides hispanica)

Top photo ‘Lily Lovell’ courtesy of Patrick Chissus
Other photos by author

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Pay-Per-Scan Is Madness!

“Archie, have you ever known me to show rancor? …vehement ill will, intense malignity… I have it now… it’s in the way!  I can’t think clearly!  Confound it!  Rancor…it’s a pimple on the brain!”
~Rex Stout via Nero Wolfe

Last year I read an article exposing the pay-per-scan agreements generally contracted between big-box-hardware/garden center stores (BBHGC) and the growers supplying the nursery plants. I think it bears further discussion. I groaned labored worked 21 years in the retail circus industry and in my opinion this kind of contract shows just how desperate plant growers are to stay in business and how greedy big-box stores can be.

According to the article, pay-per-scan means that the commercial nursery grower only gets paid for the plants that are purchased and kept by customers of the BBHGC. At the BBHGC, when we buy a plant, it gets scanned. That purchase goes into a database and at some point, long after the grower delivered the plants to the BBHGC, they get paid. If the plant dies, and we return it, it gets scanned and it gets removed from the database so the commercial grower never gets paid for it.

When we buy a plant from an independent nursery, in addition to having access to knowledgeable, helpful staff, they often give planting and care directions with the receipt as they want us to be successful with our purchase because the return of a dead plant will cost the nursery money and sometimes reputation. They paid the grower already for the plants they received in the shipment, so any returns go against the nursery’s profits not the grower's.

On the other hand, when we buy a plant from a BBHGC, the staff usually has no gardening expertise to guide us and no additional plant care information is given with our purchase. Our dead plant can be returned simply with a receipt…no questions asked. Since the garden dept staff is usually assigned to the garden dept and not experienced in plant care or gardening, the plant we bought could have been either: under watered, over watered, fried, frozen or otherwise abused depending on how long ago it was delivered to the big-box store. By the time we get it, it may look ok but is already beginning to die.

Case in point…you may know that Hostas are generally a species that needs shade or partial shade, with a small handful of varieties that can handle some sun. Last year, while at one of these large BBHGC I saw an entire 4 tier rack of Hostas parked in the full hot afternoon sun on an 80F+ (27C) degree day. They were all in various stages of wilt. Each tier holds 3 trays. Each tray holds 9 one gallon plants. That’s a whopping 108 plants, toasted by the store’s staff that the grower will never get paid for, because they were too damaged to ever be sold! Or if some poor unsuspecting customer did buy one, it was no doubt returned due to its demise as the damage progressed. Who looses? The grower, who grew and shipped in good faith but who will never receive a dime for those 108 plants. From my perspective, that’s appalling!

That was last year…a few days ago when I took the picture it was a 45F (7C) degree blustery day with a wind chill factor of brrr! and what did my little wandering eye spy? Approximately 90 Delphiniums whose flowering stems had been broken down by the wind and a cart of Gardenias whose leaves had all curled and withered from being displayed outside in the cold temps. What a waste!

Should you stop buying plants from these BBHGC? If you do you’ll also hurt the grower, but it’s definitely a buyer beware situation. If I buy plants at a BBHGC, which is rare, I only do so if it’s obvious the shipment is relatively fresh and newly arrived. I much prefer to support small, independent nurseries that truly have a love for gardening, want to help you succeed in your garden and employ knowledgeable staff that are gardeners too.

Thanks for putting up with this gardener’s rant…I feel better…a little…well only marginally. I need a cup of tea!

In bloom in my garden today: Erythronium ‘Pagoda’ (Yellow Fawn Lily),Wisteria, Tulipa ‘Gavota’, creeping phlox, Daffodil ‘Erlicheer’, Oxalis oregana ‘Wintergreen’, Anemone nemerosa ‘Robinsoniana’, Dodecatheon (Shooting Star), Alpine strawberry, Muscari (Grape Hyacinths), Fritillaria, Primrose, Hellebore, Skimmia, Mahonia repens (Oregon Grape), Heather, Rhododendrons, Clematis, Daphne caucasica ‘Eternal Fragrance’ and ‘Summer Ice’, Wood Hyacinth (Hyacinthoides hispanica)

Author’s photo

Monday, April 5, 2010

On A More Personal Note

To my favorite honeydew, do you carrot all for me?
My heart beets for you, with your turnip nose, and radish face.
You are a peach. If we cantaloupe, lettuce marry.
Weed make a swell pear.
~Author Unknown

This is a non-gardening question for you my friends.

What does it mean, when on your anniversary you and your beloved hand each other an identical card!??

I’m a little worried. Will we be finishing each other’s sentences soon? Buying matching jackets? We are already ordering the same meals at restaurants (sometimes)…Oh nooooo!

In bloom in my garden today: Oxalis oregana ‘Wintergreen’, Anemone nemerosa ‘Robinsoniana’, Dodecatheon (Shooting Star), Alpine strawberry, Muscari (Grape Hyacinths), Hepatica, Fritillaria, Primrose, Hellebore, Skimmia, Mahonia repens (Oregon Grape), Heather, Rhododendrons, Clematis, Hyacinth Orientaliis, Daphne caucasica 'Eternal Fragrance' and ‘Summer Ice’, Wood Hyacinth (Hyacinthoides hispanica)

Author’s photo

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Easter Was First In A Garden

“I think that if ever a mortal heard the voice of God it would be in a garden at the cool of the day”
~F. Frankfort Moore, A Garden of Peace

Joseph of Arimathea took Jesus’ body and laid it in a tomb, which was located in a garden. Three days later it was from that tomb, in that garden that Jesus arose and conquered death, for every person on the planet.

Trust in Him is all that is asked of you.

Then they asked of Him, “What must we do to do the works God requires?” Jesus answered, “The work of God is this: to believe in the One He has sent.” John 6:28

Happy Easter

Saturday, April 3, 2010

We Have A Winner...Or Two!

There can be no other occupation like gardening in which, if you were to creep up behind someone at their work, you would find them smiling.
~Mirabel Osler

Thank you everyone for your entries! What a fun and imaginative bunch you are. But how to choose? They are all wonderful. Oh dilemma!

While looking over this fabulous list of entries and considering choosing just one via ‘pin-the tail on-the donkey’ style, a combo-name popped into my head, rolled around in there for a while and refuses to exit. Leaving you in suspense a little longer, I’ll give a rundown of the names submitted.

Shari from FitFeat got the ball rolling with:
Mary Jane: clever, verrrrry clever my dear, but no doubt some knuckle-head will point out that mary jane is aka ‘weed’ and since no weeds are allowed in my garden I had to root that one out ;)
Sukhon: meaning pleasing scent…hmmm I like that! It’s restful.

From Tracy at Kitsap Garden
Mali: meaning Jasmine…ohhh lovely and as she stated I do have Jasmine vines!

From Rosella at Rosella's Garden
Floradora: whimsical fun! Capricious comes to my mind…root: n caprice meaning…"head with hair standing on end"…and Rosella hadn’t even seen this picture yet!! Are you psychic?

Lastly, Cindy at A Sparkle A Day
After a frightening brain freeze, her ‘little grey cells’ kicked back into high gear just as the door was closing…
Bee-Trice Yay! Save the bees!
Rose-Annafanna - Love this, too funny!
Mademoiselle Fanny Le Fleur – I love French lingo and French music

Well I had some work ahead of me didn’t I? And the winning name is…drum roll…are you sitting down?...

Mademoiselle Mali Sukhonafloranna

Pronouncation: mad-mwa-zel molly sue-CĂNNĂ-flor-ănnă.

Translation: Miss pleasing scent Jasmine flower- anna.

How cool is that? Indeed, it is a mouthful and even my brain is beginning to freeze…but hey, I like it!! And if you’ve ever studied German, you know they make HUMONGEOUS compound words…so if they can, I can!

Well done all!! Which means you’re ALL winners!! I have packets of poppy seed ready to be sent to each of you. Email an address to which you’d like me to send them at: gardenblogger at msn dot com and I’ll get them out right away. Please, please…a big woohoo for each other!

This year Mlle. Mali Sukhonafloranna will be sporting a spikey do (no greasy kid stuff needed) of Spider plant (Cholorophytum) with a mossy crown. Normally, Spider plant is an indoor plant around here, but I think it will do well for her this summer as soon as the night temps stay above 50F (10C) degrees and she stays in a shady spot. It will be a fun experiment, and no doubt one of many changing hairdo’s she’ll undergo in the years to come. Though now it looks more like an unruly mohawk, as the plant grows and fills in I’ll be sure to update her picture. Stay tuned!

In bloom in my garden today: Oxalis oregana ‘Wintergreen’, Anemone nemerosa ‘Robinsoniana’, Dodecatheon (Shooting Star), Alpine strawberry, Muscari (Grape Hyacinths), Hepatica, Fritillaria, Primrose, Hellebore, Skimmia, Mahonia repens (Oregon Grape), Heather, Rhododendrons, Clematis, Hyacinth Orientaliis, Daphne caucasica ‘Eternal Fragrance’ and ‘Summer Ice’, Wood Hyacinth (Hyacinthoides hispanica)

Author’s photo