I opened the mail box, out on the path to the zigzag. And found this dead young bumble.
Suffocated, perhaps, by a parcel that arrived today. So sad. Once I’d have hardly noticed.
In happier news, dill in a neighbouring plot on the zigzag has flowered. The bumbles love it.
And the happiest news? I think a wild bee visited the daisies.
Wild bees are rare now, because of the varroa mite. See how different this bee is from the honey bee I saw the other day?
We have very limited bee diversity in New Zealand. So if a wild bee visits, it’s pretty special I reckon. Something to celebrate.
And I should also celebrate this book that was in the parcel that may have suffocated the bee. It includes a chapter I wrote on New Zealand women directors– 4000 words that took a while, but I was so absorbed by the dead bee that I dumped the book on a shelf among other books, without opening it. Without celebration. This bee-loved flower quest has changed me.
It’s raining a bit now. At last. Whew. I hope it rains all day.
Regardless, I’m off to see Ava DuVernay’s Selma this arvo. A film for activist communities of all kinds, that’s for sure.
We need rain. Sunflowers have died in my garden, first time ever. About half, even though I’ve watered. And they’re wilting on one side of ‘my’ bit of the public zigzag garden, where I never water. Not so bad on the other side. Fingers crossed there will be some golden flowers quite soon.
I sowed beans to climb these sunflowers. I think birds ate most of the seeds. And/or beans may not co-habit well with sunflowers. But I now have three beans on a single plant (further up, the neighbouring zigzag garden has handfuls).
I’ll save these beans for next year’s seed.
A little patch of sorrel has survived, too. Some rain will help it expand.
And in the tomato thicket, bergamots are in flower. Some in my own garden too. But the bees haven’t found them yet.
Not bad, without any watering at all? And the cocktail tomatoes are beginning to ripen.
There’s lots of parsley, too. But the silver beet and the cape gooseberries (with its ripening fruit) are looking stressed.
And in my own garden, I have problems with my long-established fruit trees. I wonder whether climate change is part of this. For instance, the feijoa trees flowered very early (I removed the flowers) and have now flowered again.
Birds – for the second year in a row – are eating the immature apples. Are there shortages of their other food because of this hot weather? Or more birds than usual? I love the tiny native birds: fantail/pīwakawaka and waxeye/ tauhou and sometimes grey warbler/ riroriro. They dance along branches of the trees, glean tiny bugs that I can’t see. I enjoy the exotics – blackbirds and thrushes – that go for the snails. But are they welcome to most of the apples, especially from the only tree that produces big crops? No. Nets next year.
The birds aren’t eating the pears. But – another worry – the pears are much smaller than usual at the end of January.
And so are the quinces. Same size for weeks.
A big thank you to the bees that pollinated the trees. But now I have to consider how to protect the crop in other ways, next year.
If you’ve read this blog from the beginning, you may remember two beautiful boys and their tomatoes– James and Jake, my grandsons who live in England, near Oxford. It’s winter there now, of course. Not much to do in their garden. So it’s lego and library times. Museums.
And their dad, Alex, took them to the Natural History Museum in Oxford, where they read about bees. And saw bees at work, European Honey Bees – apis mellifera.
The hive was hand-built especially for the museum. It has a tube leading to the outside world, purpose-fitted with a perspex lid so that visitors can watch the bees coming and going.
The queen bee has been marked with a green spot on her back to help people identify her in the hive (but I can’t see her in this image from the museum itself).
I imagine that the boys saw the attendant ring of bees that tend the queen bee constantly and watched bees storing the pollen inside the hive, to feed the larvae. They also saw extra information on the walls, like this–
I especially like this chart of British bees. Males on the left, females on the right. There are 264 species, much more diversity than we get in New Zealand–
I love the names of this group. Buff-tailed bumble bee. Cuckoo bumble bee. Longhorn bee. Nomad cuckoo bee (lays eggs in the nest of the mining bee). Brush-legged mining bee. Rose leaf-cutter bee. Large red-tailed bumble bee. Carder bee. Large red-tailed bumble bee. red-tailed cuckoo bee (lays eggs in the nest of the Red-tailed bumble bee). Lawn bee. Sweat bee. Cuckoo sweat bee. Flower bee. Honey bee. Cuckoo flower bee.
And here’s a fact that’s new to me: most bees are solitary. Only 3% of the world’s bee species are social.
Eventually…will have speakers so that people can hear the bees at work in the hive. The area directly outside the windows is being developed into a mini rooftop garden with large barrel planters containing some of the bees’ favourite flowers such as thyme and lavender.
I’m delighted that Alex sent me these pics of the boys learning about bees.
London’s Natural History Museum has got something similar and some good bee information for us all, among their web pages–
In the spring, I gave bee-loved seedlings (and tomato and courgette seedlings) only to people I love. By chance really. People in my extended ‘family’ who help me flourish, so I see them regularly. Because they warm my heart, with their laughter and talk and generosity. (Some of them passed on the seedlings to people I don’t know.)
As the plants mature, I’m learning that these beautiful Bee-Loved Flower People (the 1960s return, in a new form!) also help the plants flourish, strongly. And differently from those that stayed here, in my garden and on the public zigzag. I expected that this would happen with the seedlings I gave my chi gong teacher, but it seems to be happening with all the plants.
Remember that 14 1/2 inch Florence ribbed courgette/marrow the other day, from up the coast in Kapiti? That courgette photo from out at Lower Hutt? And now there’s more news, via Twitter, from a household that’s a twenty minute stroll away.
Last night, in a series of tweets, I got the picture above, of the first bergamot seedling to flower, confirming that the plant is a bergamot. Then these tomato pics. Like me, this Bee-Loved Flower Person has lost the plant labels.
‘I think that’s the Gardener’s Delights,’ came the tweet. ‘Not sure about these wrinkly ones. I don’t think that’s the Black From Tula but I don’t remember what the third breed was you gave us!’ (Cherokee Purple.)
And: ‘I think this might be a B(lack) F(rom) T(ula)’.
‘Mine are so SMALL still,’ I tweeted back.
The response: ‘I may have cheated as they’re planted straight into potting mix bags. We are quite sheltered though which probably helps?’
My response just flew onto the screen: ‘There’s no ‘cheating’ in that. Shelter, yr sun, yr good chi & green fingers. All that laughter–‘
I’m so excited by all this. Surprised and delighted that these Bee-Loved Flower People’s experiences with their plants extend and enhance my understanding of the plants that stayed here.
We’re in high summer. Here, south of the equator, that means day after day of gusts of warm and drying wind from the north. And, this year, lots of sunshine.
On the public zigzag, I don’t use a hose. And won’t. Because I’m experimenting. Some of the experiments are about sun. I watch the arc of the sun and how that’s changed before and after solstice. Will the sunny spot where I have tomatoes provide six hours of sun a day right through the ripening period?
Some of it’s about plant choice. Natives. And as many bee-loved herbs as I can manage, to grow and self-seed in perpetuity, as a bee haven. Parsley and borage have already self-seeded here and there and a volunteer poppy is about to flower. To feed passersby, I’ve planted silver beet (very hardy), cape gooseberries (ditto) and tomatoes (because I like eating them too).
Some of the experiments are about water. Which plants will become more stressed than others, because they always need lots of water? (Or for other reasons.)
I want the zigzag gardens I care for to be self-sufficient, so they need only a big cleanup now and then. So most of my planting’s been done with minimal ongoing plant support–into organic compost, and then an initial watering. Then mulch, or weed matting with mulch on top in some places. The single phacelia and some tiny parsley the only exceptions. On the less sunny side of the zigzag, where there’s lots of humus, I just popped the baby plants straight in.
I absolutely don’t want anyone to have to water out there. That’s why we started the two hugelkulturs. I liked the idea that it was possible – within a larger garden area – to establish individual gardens that don’t require irrigation or fertiliser.
So how are the plants doing during these hot and windy days? To my surprise, among all that humus, and shaded by trees, the plants on the less sunny side of the zigzag aren’t flourishing and appear to be heat-stressed. Just as well the completed hugelkulturs will be there (eventually, everything takes a while).
On the sunnier side, where harakeke (flax) surrounds them, plants are healthy, green and growing fast. I’m especially surprised that the tomatoes are flourishing without any added water. Some now have fruit.
We put the hugelkulturs on the shady side of the zigzag because that’s where there was wood to bury – the essential component of hugelkultur. It looks like we chose the right place. (I’m still wondering how people establish hugelkulturs in a desert, where there’s no starter wood.)
Now I’m considering how to support the plants on that dry side. I refuse to drag the hose out there, on principle. Fingers crossed it will rain soon. Otherwise I’ll go to and fro with the big watering can. Anyway, will add more mulch.
I fell in love with phacelia (purple tansy) before I planted a single seed. Before I’d even seen a phacelia plant. Who knows why? A coup de foudre is often mysterious. And especially for something not yet seen. But if I hadn’t loved phacelia I might have given up. For this year anyway.
First off, not many phacelia seeds germinated. They drowned easily as tiny seedlings too. With so many seedlings to water – see early posts – I was sometimes a little careless. Eventually I planted half a dozen in the vegetable garden where I could keep a close eye on them. And four in the tomato patch on the zigzag, where the nearby hyssop, parsley and bergamot flourished.
But not the phacelias. Birds saw a space with fresh compost and scratched up the plants. None of the others, in more robust groupings, only the phacelias. I rescued what I could. And I covered them and their rescue Black From Tula tomato neighbours with this chicken wire cage (the net was in use in the vegetable garden).
One zigzag phacelia survived. (I visit it every day.)
The phacelias in the vegetable garden flourished and flowered. Even the one that I somehow broke, and mended with gaffer tape.
Then the zigzag phacelia looked about to flower and the Black From Tulas were growing like crazy. So a couple of days ago, with great care not to catch the plants in the chicken wire, I lifted it off. Caught the phacelia somehow. And ripped it RIGHT OUT.
Broken roots. A nasty shock. For both of us.
I put it back, with more compost. And now I run to and fro to water it twice a day. Sometimes with compost-tea in the watering-can water.
It looks as though some stalks have died, but one is coming back (top left). Maybe two. Whew.
My garden is overflowing. Flowers and vegetables packed in. Still too few bees. And all of them bumbles.
More than ever, I regret my failure to transplant all the sunflowers to the zigzag. They’re now taking up far too much space and overshadowing tomatoes and herbs, the bee-loved plants that I hope will soon flower .
A couple of days ago I saw the borage and parsley growing and seeding like crazy and decided to make space by ripping out all the borages.
Two advantages. More space. And I could observe what (bumble) bees choose when borage isn’t immediately available.
No guilt involved– the borage is great in the weed bins and there are already tiny borage plants everywhere for the not-too-distant future.
And yes! The bees made for the other blue plants– larkspur and cornflowers.
I saw one briefly on the phacelia but didn’t have time to catch a pic.
I even saw a bee among the nasturtiums.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the house the poppies are going for it.
And the bees love them. But I’ve noticed that once the fluffy bits around the seed head in the poppy centres disappear (often on the very day the poppy flowers– is it the wind, the bees, or just a normal rapid poppy change?) the bees avoid those poppies. The fluffy bits must carry the pollen. It makes sense.
Alongside the bee-loved plants, vegetables grow apace.
The Kings Seeds Florence Ribbed courgette is a stunner. Here are babies on some of my seedlings transplanted to a Lower Hutt garden.
And this is looking down into one of the four plantings in my back garden.
Some of the flowers are HUGE, but they don’t seem to attract bees. On the biggest plant, some courgettes rot at the ends as they grow. (When I harvest I slash off any rotten bits. And all the courgettes have been good to eat.)
The plants that travelled up the coast to Kapiti are doing the best of all. Look at this monster that grew there, over just a few days while the owners were away.
The two in the middle came from Kapiti, too, along with an excellent recipe for courgette and feta fritters. Those on the far right are the largest so far from my plantings here.
And, at last, I hung some tomato plants upside down, after transplanting them and keeping them ‘right’ way up for some days without watering, so they would establish their roots.
The bigger one, in the foreground, is a Cherokee Purple, the smaller a little rescue Black From Tula. I’m intrigued that both tomatoes are still trying to grow upwards. See how that stem curves in the middle, towards the top of the pic?
And the compost sure holds the water. When we first hung them up even though I didn’t water them, for DAYS water dripped out via the Black From Tula, which hangs a little lower. So I put a pot of marjoram underneath, to catch the drips.
The contrast with this lovely row is considerable, isn’t it?
But I’m doing my best. Learning heaps.
Meanwhile, out on the zigzag, more tomatoes, silver beet and the parsley are growing well. Though something’s nibbling at one of the silver beet plants. A slug? A snail? A bird?
Perhaps not snails. The other day, a guy leant on the rail above the cape gooseberries, next to the silver beet. He gazed at them for quite a while, without saying a thing.
Eventually I said–
‘Are you wondering what they are?’
‘No,’ he said. ‘They’re cape gooseberries. I had some and snails ate them.’
So I’ve decided that if snails aren’t eating these gooseberries, it’s unlikely they’re around to eat the silver beet, either.
Anyway, I hope that guy will return, to eat some cape gooseberries when they ripen.They’re flowering now. I don’t think they need bees for pollination.
And then, after claiming yesterday that the bumbles are interested only in lavender, poppies and borage, today I saw one dancing among these flowers. Nothing left in the poppies, it seemed, so she tried the yellow calendulas and the cornflowers on the right.
So I’ve planted the red geraniums. I hope they’ll grow into a little hedge that spreads across the weed mats, where mulch will soon replace those old rocks and bricks. But now I can’t find the article that told me that bees avoid red geraniums. And why. I can confirm that bees see and distinguish all colours except red so they won’t see them. But that might mean that the bees will just fly straight past and into the spray zone. The geraniums won’t be a barrier. Is there another factor? The geranium scent perhaps?
Or the multiple petals? One reason to use heritage seeds is because new and hybrid flower varieties with double or triple flowers and new colours tend to produce less pollen and less nectar. Bees sense this. (And some heavily petalled old varieties, like peonies, are also unattractive to bees.)
And, in a related issue, how come the bumbles are right into our red poppies at the mo? I watch this wild piece of garden regularly and have yet to see a bee land on the calendula (yellow) or daisy (white with yellow centre) or cornflower (blue). But they visit every red poppy that blooms.
Susan Brackney’s Plan Bee explains that – unlike human beans (I’m reading Roald Dahl’s The BFG) – bees see ultra violet light. They rely on the location of the sun to help them navigate and they find their way on cloudy days because ultra violet rays penetrate clouds. And red poppies reflect ultra violet especially well. If we could see ultra violet light, we’d see red poppies shimmer in the sun and extra streaks and lines like airport landing strips, which show the way to the nectar.
I’m disappointed that there are few bees in the garden over this mid-summer time and that they are all bumbles. Not a honey bee in sight. And the only flowers they seem interested in are the borage – white and blue – and the lavender.
It’s especially disappointing because at last some of my new bee-loved flowers are in flower and so far the bees just whizz past them en route to the lavender and borage. They’re phacelia (purple tansy). Most of the seedlings died, so there aren’t many mature plants.
The alyssum doesn’t attract the bees either.
Nor the cornflowers. Though I did see one on this yellow flowering rocket (there for seed), in among the cornflowers. Briefly.
I’m following the action closely. Hoping to learn more.
And if you know anything about these little mysteries that intrigue me, I’d love to hear from you.
Bees & Bee-Loved Flowers. A Global View From New Zealand.