A Bumble Bee Dies. A Wild Bee (?) Visits.

I opened the mail box, out on the path to the zigzag. And found this dead young bumble.

dead bee

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.

bee on dill flower
bumble bee on dill flower

And the happiest news? I think a wild bee visited the daisies.

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wild bee (?) and daisy

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?

honey bee in calendula
honey bee & calendula

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.

new book

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.

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Heat.

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.

sunflowers on northern side
zigzag sunflowers doing well in partial shade

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).

beans on sunflowers
two of the three bean pods

I’ll save these beans for next year’s seed.

A little patch of sorrel has survived, too. Some rain will help it expand.

sorrel with bird shit
sorrel with bird shit

And in the tomato thicket, bergamots are in flower. Some in my own garden too. But the bees haven’t found them yet.

tomato thicket

Not bad, without any watering at all? And the cocktail tomatoes are beginning to ripen.

ripe tomatoes
first tomatoes, from Megan’s compost heap volunteers

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.

pears

And so are the quinces. Same size for weeks.

quince

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.

Bees In The Blossom. And Other Winged Insects

It is DRY. I have to restrain myself from dragging the long hose onto the public zigzag. I need to know what will grow well out there, even if neglected, even in a drought.

DRY
left to right– borage, poppies, daisies

But it’s hard when I look at this borage (yes, the borage is back, in some places at least), these poppies. They are all stressed. The daisies seem very hardy. I’ll add them in other places next year.

In the regularly watered home garden, there are very few honey bees. But the bumbles are busy. And they LOVE the phacelia, now flowering abundantly. Even when there’s fresh borage nearby.

bumbles choose phacelia
bumbles choose phacelia, among borage, calendula, cornflowers
Bumbles in phacelia
going for it
phacelia with bee
this one so you can admire the phacelia leaves

I’ve added a little bowl of water in the back garden, for the bees. (A bumble bee fell in and was in bad shape when I came to the rescue. I put it in a shady place to recover. And then it was gone.)

The water hasn’t attracted the honey bees. Occasionally one comes by. This one had a lot of flower choice and went for a series of calendula blossoms.

honey bee in calendula

And I’ve noticed other winged insects. Here are two. I’ve searched on Google reverse image for them, without success. Are they busy eating little pests? I hope so.

another winged creature at rest

winged creature at rest

If you know what these are, I’d love to hear from you.

I’ve had a few ‘black’ poppies, too, with a range of colour. The insects, including the bees, seem to ignore them.

black poppy
(only slightly) black poppy

I keep watching.

The Boys & The Bees at the Natural History Museum

Jake and James at the Natural History museum
Jake and James at the Natural History museum, reading that ‘ nearly one third of all the food we eat depends on pollination by bees’

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.

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James watching the hive

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.

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James and the tube

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).

Bees in the honeycomb

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–

the architectural

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–

chart

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.

According to the museum’s website, its hive–

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–

Honey bees: What’s all the buzz about? 
British bumble bee identification guide
The museum’s Bee Tree (yes!)

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bees in London Natural History Museum Bee Tree

The hive in Oxford and London’s Bee Tree installation have to be must-sees for anyone travelling with children. And for the rest of us. I hope they’re in all the guide books!

Back to bee-loved plants in New Zealand in my next post. More flowering. And too much heat, not enough rain.

P.S. For you especially, Jake and James. London’s new Bee Tree being installed.

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The hive in the new tree.

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And the door to the hive.

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A treat to come, perhaps?

#Bee-Loved Flower People

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Bergamot. Wellington 2015

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.

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Gardener’s Delight?

‘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.)

wrinkly ones
Cherokee Purple?

And: ‘I think this might be a B(lack) F(rom) T(ula)’.

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Black From Tula?

‘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.

Water & #Bee-Loved Plants on the Zigzag (1)

my watering cans
my watering cans

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 dry side
on the dry side, with hugelkultur under development at top left

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.

on the other side of the track

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.

Taking Care of Phacelia – My Favorite Bee-Loved Flower

bee on phacelia
bee on phacelia, the mauve blossom in the foreground

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).

phacelia in cage with bee
chicken wire cage poses on vegetable garden phacelias (where a bumble bee loves the the middle one)

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.

Gaffer tape
the gaffer tape is that red, supporting the broken bits of phacelia

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.

phacelia laid low among other bee-loveds and the tomatoes
phacelia laid low among other bee-loveds and the tomatoes

It looks as though some stalks have died, but one is coming back (top left). Maybe two. Whew.

Uprooting the Borage: A Bee-Loved Flower Experiment In An Overcrowded Garden

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cornflowers at upper left, larkspur below, calendula in middle, surrounded by courgettes, tomatoes and sunflowers

My garden is overflowing. Flowers and vegetables packed in. Still too few bees. And all of them bumbles.

with 2 phacelia and everything
silver beet, parsley, sorrel, calendula and two mauve phacelia in middle at top

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.

bumble bee on larkspur
bumble bee on larkspur
cornflower
bumble bee on cornflower and yes! that’s a bergamot or hyssop in the foreground, still not flowering alas

I saw one briefly on the phacelia but didn’t have time to catch a pic.

my favorite, phacelia, again, among the tomatoes and awaiting a passing bee
my favorite, phacelia –again – among the tomatoes and silver beet and awaiting a passing bee

I even saw a bee among the nasturtiums.

nasturtium moment
nasturtium moment

Meanwhile, on the other side of the house the poppies are going for it.

poppies with 'fluff' – I need to learn some 'proper' names
poppies with ‘fluff’ – I need to learn some ‘proper’ names

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.

fluff gone
fluff free poppy

 

Florence Ribbed Courgettes & Hanging Tomatoes

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.

Fancourgette

And this is looking down into one of the four plantings in my back garden.

Florence couregettes

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.

comparative courgettes
That big one is 14 1/2 inches long.

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.

tomato

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?

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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?

silver beet slightly eaten

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.

cape gooseberries doing well
cape gooseberries

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.

all of them

Bee-Loved Flower Mysteries

geraniums in situ
red geraniums and weed mat on the zigzag

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.

bee in red poppy +
there’s a bumble bee in that central red poppy

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.

bumble bee in borage
bumble bee in the blue borage, early January
bumble bee on white borage
bumble bee (left) making for the white borage, same day

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.

phacellia
lavender-coloured phacelia among the tomatoes and calendula – growing through a net which is protecting nearby seed beds from birds and cats

The alyssum doesn’t attract the bees either.

alyssum
alyssum

Nor the cornflowers. Though I did see one on this yellow flowering rocket (there for seed), in among the cornflowers. Briefly.

flowering rocket
rocket flowers among the blue cornflowers (aka bachelors buttons)

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.