Tag Archives: alyssum

What More Can I Do?

 

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Rosemary

I started to grow neonic-free bee-loved plants to nourish the bees. Because there were few of them, perhaps because the city council sprayed nasty chemicals on the public zigzag outside my gate. The chemicals made me ill, so what were they doing to the bees?

So a lost two years ago I arranged with the city council that I’d care for a big area of the zigzag closest to our place, in return for No Spraying. And I planted lavender and rosemary, alyssum, phacelia, cornflowers, thyme. Nearby, the fruit trees, herbs and bushes flowered in my organic garden as they always did.

This New Zealand summer, the dandelions, calendula, parsley and borage kept right on flourishing and self-seeding in my garden and on the zigzag and I encouraged clover wherever it appeared. Would more bees flourish?

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Autumn: mature lavender above nearby borage, parsley, calendula and silver beet (chard) seedlings, near a primitive shelter for my turmeric plants, growing well in this warmer time

The answer, sadly, is No. At the end of this long hot New Zealand summer there were few bees, in my garden or on the zigzag. After my parsley plantation finished flowering, every so often I saw a bumble bee or honey bee on a rosemary or lavender bush in the garden, or at the edge of the zigzag path on the thyme, growing well. But none on the alyssum, now vigorously self-seeding everywhere and flourishing in spite of little rain. This autumn, still quite warm, I see about one bee a week.

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Alyssum

This is much worse than last year. I don’t know what more I can do.

I also asked ‘Is it possible to maintain a useful garden without water?’ Out on the zigzag, where there’s no tap, I’ve experimented with hugelkultur, raised beds above buried wood, because they’re known to be good for plants and good in drought and flood, both more common than they used to be because of climate change.

And I’ve planted vegetables and small fruits among the the zigzag’s bee-loved flowers and  native plants and trees: ngaio, harakeke (flax), ti kouka (cabbage trees) and grasses.

I’ve found that in some parts of the zigzag and on some of the hugelkultur some plants flourish: tomatoes among the harakeke, bordoloi beans on a hugelkultur (but not the more common scarlet runner beans) hardy silver beet in some places but not others. On one problematic hugelkultur not even the borage and calendula bloomed strongly. There, and elsewhere in the home garden I’ve added more mulches; and  Environmental Fertiliser products. Will let you know how they go!

The best news is, that like friends throughout New Zealand I have a huge quince crop, the best for decades, another result of the dry weather, I believe.

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One of the quince pickings

This year I’ll continue to experiment, maintaining the bee-loved focus while working hard to produce more vegetables. We’re aware of water security here because of the earthquake risk and it’s time to consider future drought risk and food security, too. (I hear passersby on the zigzag discussing these possibilities as they admire – and critique – the trees and plants.)

This week because it’s rained recently I’ll start to clear the noxious weeds, transplant some self-seeded land cress and bury the freesia bulbs I’ve been given, for their scent in the spring.

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Self-sown land cress below some thyme and above the thyme, flourishing hollyhock plants, galangal and calendula, dock and dandelion

I’d love your stories and advice, if you’re engaged in similar projects. And in the meantime, off to the kitchen for the quince paste-making.

 

 

More Spring

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quince blossom above Oriental Bay

I went away. And iCloud lost all my photos, including some of an amazing beekeeper on Waiheke Island and his honeys.

And the weather’s been awful. And I’ve been busy with other work. But spring continued anyway.

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a tui in our apple blossom

The bees are back and I’m gardening when I can.

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blue borage, forget-me-not, poppies & calendula

In one part of the garden, all those open-pollinated seeds from last year grew, flowered and went to seed. Those seeds became a stunning early spring show of poppies, calendula, alyssum, borage (white and blue), night scented stock.

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night scented stock, beginning cornflowers,white borage, alyssum

And, of course, the lavender is still there.

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Out on the zigzag, new seeds have sprouted and the hollyhocks are growing.

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the growing hollyhocks, other flower seedlings, flowering geranium, some shepherd’s purse and in the background a kaka beak (just finished flowering)

This year, around the hugelkultur, I’m experimenting again, as I work with the seasonal arcs of the sun, very different than on the other side of the zigzag.

I’ve emulated the neighbours and tried pumpkins, some seedlings for me, some for them. Bees love those big yellow blossoms.

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The tin cans and other (homemade) metal circles are to deter slugs and snails, which don’t like sharp things. Also cats and birds.

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pumpkin seedlings on the hugelkultur

The wire netting helped with some new seedlings. But the birds got under this wire netting and pulled at my Biogro pots, even though the pots were buried. That killed a bean plant or two, alas. The birds scratched out almost all the coriander, too.

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climbing beans and the remains of the biogro pots the birds destroyed

And this morning, I’ll plant the very last of the pumpkins and some coriander someone gave me.

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Off up the path I go, past the bees already busy in the blossom. Into the spring(ish) day.

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After breakfast.

#Bee-Loved Flowers (& Tomatoes!) in Almost-Winter

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After a cold night, it’s warm here now. I still harvest tomatoes, mostly Gardeners Delights from King’s Seeds, like someone down the road who shared the plants (thank you for this handful image, on Twitter in exactly the right week).

This morning in the garden I can’t see a single pollinator, but it’s a thrill to see the rapid spread of alyssum. It seems to be more highly scented at the moment, too.

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alyssum! & look at those healthy calendula leaves & flowers!

A single anise hyssop is flourishing now it’s no longer competing with tomato neighbours. It looks as though it may flower soon. Nearby, one of the Italian parsley plant patches, there for passersby.

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centre top, anise hyssop, plus nasturtium at left, some alyssum and (in front) that Italian parsley patch

The late-planted thyme’s flowering well in places.

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The dandelions are going from strength to strength now I’ve embraced them.

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In the back garden there’s a herb forest alongside the fruit trees. Some bergamot is still flowering (and seeding) among more parsley, borage, alyssum, lavender, vietnamese mint, the very last of the basil fino verde and anise basil. And those tomatoes.

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see the little mauve bergamot flowers?

On the front doorstep, some baby hollyhocks to flower next summer.

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And across the water, in Nelson, some travelling plants, in my mate’s garden near her flowering rosemary, New Zealand fern and late hydrangea.

Pip's garden

The borage shouldering out – as always. The calendula and alyssum going for it across the side. The parsley doing its best. The basil and coriander are probably over.

The Year’s Last Bees?

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Quinces. Waiting.

It’s autumn here. Native and exotic birds busy among the apple trees.The quinces are good this year and I planned to make quince paste over this long weekend, from my favorite Elizabeth David recipe. Many thanks to the bees for all their pollination help, six months ago.

There are still lots of bee-loved plants in the garden, even on the otherwise empty table where I kept the plants to sell. Just a couple of pots left, with straggly alyssum and basil fino verde plants that I wouldn’t even give away.

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the almost denuded plant table

And occasionally a bee in the lavender.

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Bumble bees a little more often. Also in the lavender. But soon they’ll all be gone, until spring.

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I wanted to make the quince paste. I wanted to prepare the garden for winter. But I’m trying to complete a project. And I’m struggling. Sometimes with interruptions, like the City Council spraying old man’s beard nearby. With Roundup.

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old man’s beard

 

This meant I had to leave, to work in the town library. The plants and the bees didn’t have that choice. Did the wind carry Roundup all over this hillside? I don’t know. Triumph spray; and Conquest for pasting on places where the weed was cut back. Battle-winner names.  I hate them.

I dream of bee colonies in our trees, love everything I read about apicentred tree hives, but I think this is the wrong place for them. Will think more fully about it when I’m up-to-date with everything else. Will that happen soon?

Out In The Park

Tomorrow, with assistance from lovely mates, I was having a stall at Out in the Park, Wellington’s Queer Fair, down the road at the harbour’s edge. For the first time, I was going to sell bee-loved plants. I even have this big (A0) vinyl poster, logo designed by Maeve Marama Lonie, the daughter of one of my oldest friends.

Maeve's poster
awful pic quality of posters, not great with using the flash–

There’s a coldish southerly tonight, so I brought the plants inside for the last time, sad that they’re going. Each biodegradable pot holds alyssum, two kinds of basil, bergamot, borage, calendula, coriander, parsley, all grown completely organically and without neonics. The idea is that people get to know these plants as they grow and flower, attract bees and then seed. And because the plants all come from heritage seeds, buyers can collect their own seed for next year.

plants tucked in for night

The plants loved it when my qi gong teacher spent forty minutes giving them qi, on Tuesday. ‘They’re happier’, she said afterwards. BUT last night some little organism got to the large basil – the fino verde is fine – so that happiness didn’t protect them.

And now the fair’s been postponed till Sunday because of that nasty southerly, whoosh! in from Antarctica. Irritating, because my driver isn’t available that day and the day’s timeframe for the fair may change, too.

But the extra day gives me time to replace the munted basil and to better organise the other, film, side of the stall. There, I’ll be selling items that aren’t at risk from the environment in the same way plants are.

Pure cotton tea towels from my Development project. All the same size, unlike the bergamot, for instance.

Developent t-towel

And Complex Female Protagonist military caps. Three colours – black, white, khaki. All standard, unlike the greens of the plants. Here’s the poster–

CFP poster

I’ve been too timid to open the carton they arrived in– what if I hate the caps I ordered, military-style, as befits a ‘campaign’?

And now there’s lots of time to do that tomorrow. And to enjoy the sunflowers. Even if it’s raining.

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I might even walk along the zigzag to our local park, formerly a monastery garden. Traces of the garden are still there – brick walls, a huge pear tree, some herbs. But most of all, I love the mature pohutukawa trees. The bees love pohutukawa too, when it flowers in December.

Park

Bee-Loved Flower Mysteries

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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alyssum

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

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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.

The Bee-Loved Flowers Are Growing & So Are The Conversations

I had NO IDEA that growing beeloved flowers would stimulate so many conversations. Not always about bees.

On the zigzag the conversations are with passersby. Some I know. Some I don’t.  Sometimes I’m happy to chat. Sometimes I’m not.  And I loved it when a strong and chatty house guest dug a trench for me,  in a clayey zigzag spot, for the sunflowers which I should’ve transplanted weeks ago. You can see they’re not that happy, a week later. But today it’s raining steadily. That may help.

sunflowers on zigzag, with woollen weed mat (to be continued)

I left the rest of the group in my back garden where they flourish.

sunflowers & glimpse of Florence courgette flower on left
sunflowers & glimpse of Florence courgette flower on left

I loved it on the zigzag when an old acquaintance passed by and said he’d like a  parsley patch. So when the sunflowers were in, in front of them I planted a group of volunteer tomatoes a neighbour donated, some Black From Tula toms that I’d left far too long in their pots, some phacelia that the birds – or a cat frustrated by the netting on the backyard garden – immediately scratched up. And at the very front, next to the zigzag path, a little patch of small parsleys and a few calendulas.

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part of the parsley & calendula patch

I also have conversations with people who are growing tiny plants from here, at their place.

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I’ve lost track…

This picture came in a tweet, in a little group of tweets from one household–

I’ve lost track of what some of these plants are… Also, I tried three of the toms hanging from buckets but I didn’t get their roots in far enough so had to replant them more normally.

I looked at this herb, growing on a sunny windowsill I’m familiar with. It’s grown more quickly than most of my own herbs sown from the same seeds at the same time. But all their labels blew away when they were seedlings. What is it?

I know it’s not thyme. There are thyme, hyssop and bergamot babies in my garden. I sowed two kinds of bergamot, bergamot bee balm and bergamot lemon but they and the hyssop are new to me. Thyme’s the only one I’m sure of, by look and smell and taste.

Thyme and bergamot?
thyme (left) with bergamot or hyssop

Is that plant on the windowsill anise hyssop? Maybe.

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anise hyssop

Is it bergamot? Also maybe. See how it has serrated leaves too? Do you know what the plants on the windowsill are? Please feel free to let me know–

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bergamot

Like hyssop, bergamot is an aromatic perennial herb. It’s also thought to be a good companion to tomato plants. So I hope  those little plants in the sunny window are bergamot and will  join the now-flourishing tomato plants in my friends’ also-sunny garden. And that they will flower soon and feed many bees.

Via email, I have another conversation,  with my mate who identified shepherd’s purse on the zigzag. We swapped bean seeds last year. My bordoloi for her scarlet runners. And both are going great at her place.  She sent me some photos. A bordoloi already–

the first bordoloi
the first bordoloi

And lots of scarlet runner flowers.

scarlet runner flowers
scarlet runner flowers

I gave her a Florence ribbed courgette too. Like mine, it’s looking good. Well on the way.

Florence courgette
Florence courgette

And as for the bees, they’re regularly on this little path leading from my place to the zigzag, more bumbles than honey bees.

The red wheelbarrow
single wild sweet pea, dandelion, alyssum, giant pink Palestine stock, more alyssum, daisy or two, calendula, borage on the left, geranium, red wheelbarrow and lavender on the right

(I’ve learned now that bees stay away from geranium, so it’s a good plant to establish around places we want bees to avoid, like a child’s sandpit. I’m keeping mine here by the mailbox, as a courtesy towards the posties.)

AND, for the first time, I’ve  seen a (bumble) bee on the zigzag. It alighted on this forget-me-not, near the new tomato plants.

yay this random, volunteer, forget-me-not
yay this random volunteer forget-me-not

Tomatoes Beloved, Bee-Loved Flowers Not!

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People visit to choose plants to take home.  Two have taken  a clump of sunflowers and the interplanted alyssum. But most people want tomatoes. And basil.

What about some alyssum I say. What about some sunflowers? We’ve got sunflowers, they say. Got alyssum.

sunflowers & alyssum with holes where there used to be more--
Sunflowers & alyssum with holes where there used to be more–

Look! I say then. Look at these tiny bee-loved plants.

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Anonymous, could be bergamot. Or hyssop (with stray alyssum at far left)

I don’t know what they’re called because their label sticks blew away in a Kapiti wind. But they’ll be safe for the bees at your place. Better than anything you can buy at most garden centres, where they may be affected by neonics.

But no. They want tomatoes. Which don’t need bees. Which bees don’t care about. They want basil, because it’s hard to grow and it goes with the tomatoes. We’ve got plenty of flowering plants, they say.

So, a bit of advice about tomatoes out in the open–

  • They will flourish only if they’re in a plot with at least six hours of sun on a sunny day.
  • You can split open a bag of compost and put a tomato plant directly in it – no need for more!
  • You can fill a bucket with compost, put a hole in the bottom of the bucket and hang the tomato plant downward – then feed liquid seaweed/comfrey etc from the top.
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Great trick, huh? (thanks, Fiona Lovatt!)
  • If you want tomato-flavour-to-die-for, establish around 50 plants and severely limit the number of branches and fruit (via the sterling Alex Mackay, whose tomatoes are legendary).

Gardeners Delight (no apostrophe!) is the visitors’ fave tomato, so far. I have lots of Black From Tula and the ones that – this year – interest me most, Cherokee Purple .

Here are small Cherokee Purples in among the strawberries a month ago with tiny bee-loved borage plants top right–

Cherokees in garden 12 October 2014
Cherokee Purples 12 October 2014

From egg cartons inside, then to the outside, then to bigger containers outside. Some Cherokees now await new owners, with basil and – in one pot – a sneaky alyssum. These are rescue plants, coming right near the rosemary, the lemon balm and the evening primrose.

Waiting for a new home

And I’ve planted a few Cherokee Purples myself. The biodegradable pots are meant to be below the soil, but I haven’t got that quite right yet. So I tore the top of the pot and pushed it down towards the earth.

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Cherokee Purple with organic basil, both from Kings Seeds

And – fantastic news – that top-and-bottom-less tin to protect the Florence courgettes from slug-and-snail invasion seems to be working–

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Florence courgette in tin, with cornflowers (& teeny borage and calendula seedlings).

Apart from the Purple Cherokees and the Florence-courgette-in-the-tin success, I’m excited about my phacellia. This bowlful and a couple of smaller containers – only one of them given away, to a special gardener. Can’t decide where in the garden to provide this new-to-me-bee-loved treat.

Phacellia
Phacellia

The big question at the mo though is, HOW am I going to persuade visitors to welcome healthy bee-loved flower plants into their gardens?

Bee-Loved Flowers

I worry about bees. In my garden, a wild bee is a rarity. Each year there are fewer honey bees and there are more and more bumble bees, which tend to damage the blossom on my fruit trees and beans.

When I learned that most flowering plants are grown from seeds treated with neonicotinoids, neuro-active insecticides that reach flowers and harm foraging bees, I decided to grow more flowering plants. Bee-loved and SAFE,  from seeds without neonicotinoids, where possible heritage seeds and open pollinated seeds that will then provide more ‘safe’ seeds and plants. To distribute as widely as possible. Let me know if you’d like some.

bumble bee in the borage on this windy spring morning when I'll never see a honey bee
A bumble bee in the Borage on this windy spring morning, when I’ll never see a honey bee – they hate the wind

I already have Calendula and Borage. Alyssum. Poppies. Evening Primrose. Italian Parsley and other flowering herbs-to-cook-with. All self sown in my garden, which has been spray-free for almost 35 years. And some plants from the organic shop. Lavender. Rosemary. But now I’m adding others, from Koanga Institute and  King’s Seeds– Peony Black Poppy, Hyssop, Wild Thyme, Bee Balm Bergamot, Anise Hyssop, Lemon Bergamot, Cornflowers. My Sunflower seeds from last year have already sprouted.

And my mates are helping me. They live on the Kapiti Coast, where it’s warmer and their garden gets more sun. Yesterday, one mate brought the  first batch of seedlings into town. I met them at the station and it felt like meeting a new baby.

the seedlings from Kapiti, with colourful labels
first seedlings from Kapiti, with colourful labels

After that, to celebrate, we went to French Can Can, the best-ever Wellington cafe for French savouries and cakes. The boss, Eric Hauser, has TWO Michelin stars. And it shows.

French Can Can, Willis Street, Wellington
French Can Can, Willis Street, Wellington

One of us had a quiche and a mille-feuille with coffee, the other an amazing little chocolate friand-like cake, filled with a delicious gooey chocolate and raspberry sauce, with a pot of tea. The tea came with a three minute tea timer, so the tea drinker could be sure to get some anti-oxidants. Then I took the baby plants home to meet the tomato seedlings.

Welcome to the world, baby plants!

borage and calendula from heritage and untreated seeds, waiting to welcome the bees
Borage and Calendula from untreated heritage seeds, waiting to welcome the bees