Helping Bees

Bees and other pollinators are in decline. In the summer 2019 issue of “Permaculture” magazine, there is an article entitled “Bee Roadzz” by Milly Carmichael that offers some hope. The following is a synopsis of that article.

In 2014 in England the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) wrote the 10-year National Pollinator Strategy to improve the state of bees and other pollinating insects and to monitor progress. Yet despite this focus on the pollinators’ plight, bees are in trouble still. The reasons for the decline in population of honeybees and other bees are manifold and complex and include loss of habitat. “…in the UK, in the last 60-70 years we have lost 97% of wildflower meadows, 300,000 km. of established hedgerows and 80% of flower-rich chalk downland.”16 Helping Bees 2

A group of people in the village of Marlborough decided to tackle this problem from a local perspective. Knowing that honeybees can travel up to 4 miles to find food and that their nearest village was 7 miles away, the people of Marlborough met with their neighboring village and set up a “bee road” between the 2 villages. They met with many different people in the town as well as farmers in the adjacent area. The first step was to work with existing resources, then re-assess and take the project further if successful. “Whatever can be done is encouraged, whether it is: reviewing garden plans and choosing more bee-friendly ones; sharing those plans with friends and neighbors; taking part in national monitoring schemes; reducing pesticide use; creating hibernation and nesting habitat for solitary bees; landowners surveying field margins for wildflowers and seeding the less rich areas…planting dozens of honeysuckle cuttings in the hedgerows; or letting a corner of a churchyard grow wilder.” Farmers were encouraged to increase wildflowers in edges of fields as well as in meadows, re-introduce hedgerows, and plant flowering trees.

In addition to increasing food sources in the farmland between the towns, creating bee habitats in yards and gardens was encouraged. “There is growing evidence that allotments, domestic gardens and community green spaces in urban environments offer enormous potential for increasing pollinator populations and protecting genetic diversity.”

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Now more villages are becoming involved in creating bee roads. The Marlborough group’s goal is to cover the country with “Bee Roadzz” so bees have habitat and food sources continuously available instead of islands of food and shelter surrounded by deserts without these resources.

In Montana our towns are many miles apart, so creating bee roads like these would be hard. But in urban areas we could work to make our yards and gardens more bee-friendly and also work with farmers and ranchers to increase food sources and habitats for bees similar to the English project.

~Submitted by Ann Guthals

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Potatoes 2019

Half of my potatoes did not flower this year. I wondered if this would affect the production of potatoes in the ground, so I dug up one plant. There were plenty of potatoes, so having no flowers did not stop the plant making new potatoes.

The flowering potato plants produced clusters of “fruit” that resembled small green tomatoes. These are not edible and in fact are poisonous. Wikipedia states that these fruits form in years that are cooler and wetter than normal as the flowers have time to be pollinated and create the fruit. This was the first year I had seen these tomato-looking clusters on my potato plants.

~Submitted by Ann Guthals

Book Review – The Weather Detective: Rediscovering Nature’s Secret Signs

The Weather Detective: Rediscovering Nature’s Secret Signs
By Peter Wohlleben

This fascinating little book does indeed have much information on using nature’s signs to predict the weather, a useful skill for home gardeners. Among the indicators explored are wind patterns, clouds, flowers that close prior to storms, and bird songs. Then the book goes on to be a wealth of more information on many aspects of reading nature to help us garden. Even though the author is German, generally his information and advice translates well to our latitude and longitude.

The topics covered vary widely from basics to interesting unusual tidbits such as what elaiosomes are (a small fatty, sugary morsel attached to seeds to entice ants to carry both home, thus spreading seeds far and wide) or synanthropes (animals born wild but who thrive in close association to cultivated human environments like the Eurasian collared dove that showed up in our yard last year and stayed). One of my favorite stories is about the flower clock created by the eighteenth century Swedish natural scientist, Carl Linnaeus. He discovered that different flowers open their blooms at different times of the day, enabling him to create a flower “clock” with different types of flowers for each hour. Equally interesting was learning that birds often sing at specific times of the day, so that after one learns their calls, one could roughly know the time when a certain bird sings.

There are several chapters with decidedly practical advice and applications for gardeners: how to work in cooperation with rather than at war with nature, increasing soil health to increase garden health, adapting to climate change, in addition to accurately predicting the weather.

There are also chapters that increase our enjoyment of the natural world: using all of our senses not just the visual, and discovering new and interesting information about many aspects of nature.

As in his other books, Mr. Wohlleben writes in a flowing, readable manner that effectively translates up-to-date scientific information into layman’s terms. I hope you will soon read and enjoy The Weather Detective, so much more than a guide to predicting the weather.

~Review by Ann Guthals

Putting the Garden to Bed

Fall is the time for cleaning up garden beds and protecting perennial plants. Here are a few things I do to prepare my garden for winter.

Feed plants. To help plants prepare for winter, I limit fertilization but feed perennials by working in compost around the beds. The compost slowly breaks down in winter, releasing nutrients to the plants and improving the soil structure.

Water perennials. Perennials, trees, and shrubs should go into winter with ample moisture. Water them deeply in the morning a few times a month to get them through the cold months.05 Putting the Garden to Bed 1

Remove annual plants and cut down perennials. After first frost, get rid of any dead flowers and plants. Remove any leaves infected with rust or powdery mildew so the spores do not overwinter in the soil. Do not com-post plants or foliage that appear diseased. Pull annuals out by their roots; cut back perennials stems to 4 to 6 inches from the ground. I leave a few plants with interesting seed heads such as coneflowers, rudbeckia, and sunflowers to serve as winter interest in the snow and because their edible seeds provide vital winter food for birds.

Dig up tender bulbs and tubers like dahlias, cannas and caladiums. Store them over winter and replant in spring.07 Putting the Garden to Bed 3

Prepare the soil for spring. Add soil amendments like manure, compost, and bone meal because these additions will have time to break down, thus enriching the soil and become biologically active.

Mulch. Apply thick layer of mulch around perennial plants, shrubs, and trees to help protect their roots in winter.

Clean and sharpen gardening tools. Wash and remove dirt, debris, and rust on tools. Sharpen hoes, shovels, and pruners.

Now that we have put the garden to bed, we can dream and plan for the next season as we flip through seed and plant catalogs!

~Submitted by Suri Lunde

Wooden Gardenware Upkeep

Doesn’t it irritate you when you pick up a tool or handle and get a sliver poke? Well I’ll sand that off when I’m done with whatever. Somehow you just don’t get around to it. Next time you notice a real crack in the handle forming. This could all be prevented with an annual fall cleanup and repair.

Scrape off all the soil and mud accumulated through the season and rinse or wipe clean and dry thoroughly. Then sand the entire wooden part of the wheelbarrow, pruners, trimmers, shovels, hoes, etc. Your final and most important treatment is to pour a little BOILED LINSEED OIL on a rag and rub the wooden parts thoroughly. Let hang till dry and the wood will be better than new next spring.

~Submitted by Sheri Kisch

Dried Arrangements

Take a walk in the fall and you will discover the interesting dried forms of familiar plants along the trails and water’s edge. These can be combined in vases or baskets to make long-lasting arrangements. Walk into an uncultivated field and you will likely have long enough stems for an arrangement in a bushel or large decorator basket. Use a laundry basket to keep plants upright and sharp scissors or pruner to cut stalks. Do ask permission before cutting on private property, though it is rare that a landowner will object. Be wary of roadside cutting if there is a chance of a weed control spraying program in the area.

04 Dried Arrangments

What a weed gives a floral arrangement is a sense of authenticity: “This really had a life somewhere that wasn’t on purpose and hasn’t had a human intervention.” Emily Thompson, floral designer.

Without traveling, you can also use the spent flower stems from your backyard garden if you allow them to age gracefully instead of continuing to deadhead after late August. Especially attractive are coneflowers (yes, they keep their petals but turn a semi-sweet chocolate brown), bee balm (round ball shape), and sunflower varieties (no petals and seeds may drop, but the residual texture in the seed head with a triangular fringe is spectacular). Often you can find pampas grass or hops at fall farmers’ markets.

Consider using dried grasses as filler much the way a florist uses ferns at the back of the arrangement to add height. Pick one or two significant stems to anchor your arrangement and repeat in another size elsewhere in the bouquet. Use vegetation of another size or density to fill in around the special stems. Do strip leaves that will be below the height of the container. A pleasing arrangement doesn’t just happen: It’s an artful blend of harmony, balance, and scale … a mixture of foliage tints, tones, and shades plus — perhaps — an added selection of pods, cones, and grasses. We have an abundance of cattails and milkweed pods in our immediate area and they can add texture and height.

You can also add a single bloom or twig of colored leaves for emphasis. If you use foliage that is still alive, you will need to use a container that holds water and change it often. Always remember that the best arrangements are approximately twice the height and width of their containers. Experiment! Have fun!

~ Submitted by Elizabeth Waddington